Investments that have been successful over the long term almost assuredly share at least one thing in common -- growth. You'll be able to find very few companies that have been unable to increase their earnings and yet still have produced good returns for shareholders.

Think about it this way: dividends aside, investors reap their gains when a company's stock price goes up. The stock price is typically driven by two levers, earnings and the multiple that investors are willing to pay for those earnings. Since earnings multiples tend to fluctuate within a certain range, long-term investors should have a keen focus on the company's ability to increase earnings.

Does it seem too simple? Maybe keeping it simple is a good plan sometimes. After all, as Third Avenue's Marty Whitman has put it:

Based on my own personal experience -- both as an investor in recent years and an expert witness in years past -- rarely do more than three or four variables really count. Everything else is noise.

With that in mind, I've kept it simple and dug up five stocks that analysts expect will notch long-term earnings growth of 10% or better. I've also pulled up the CAPS rating for each stock to show what the 145,000-member Motley Fool's CAPS community thinks of the company's prospects.

Company

Expected Growth

Forward P/E

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

SandRidge Energy (NYSE:SD)

41%

14

*****

MercadoLibre

34%

50

***

Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD)

22%

20

***

NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA)

13%

27

****

NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX)

12%

12

****

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

11%

16

***

Waste Management (NYSE:WM)

10%

17

*****

Sources: Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's), Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS.
P/E = price-to-earnings ratio.

Wall Street analysts aren't known for being supernatural in their forecasting skills, so not all of these estimates may pan out. However, this list may be a good place to dig in for further research -- in fact, I'll even get you started with some thoughts on a couple of these stocks.

Cool to the touch?
There's a lot to like about Microsoft, so it's no surprise that it's a core stock over at Motley Fool Inside Value. The company is the hands-down leader when it comes to PC operating systems and it's hard for anyone to touch it when it comes to productivity software like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

The business cranks out silly amounts of cash and its balance sheet is already loaded down with more cash than it knows what to do with. And it's not like the company hasn't figured out how to get cash back to its shareholders. Every year Microsoft spends billions upon billions buying back stock and paying dividends.

Despite all of this, though, there have been enough bearish CAPS members that Microsoft currently carries only a lukewarm three-star rating on CAPS. Late last month, CAPS member SRHunterlaw joined the Microsoft bears and painted a pretty bleak picture for the company:

What was the last real innovation they had? Cloud computing will undermine their bread and butter operating system and they will be like Iomega.

Bringing the heat
But what about high growth and a high rating from the CAPS community? For that we can turn to SandRidge Energy.

SandRidge is in almost the exact opposite situation of Microsoft. If the company's current financials aren't a disaster, they're close. At the end of September, SandRidge had roughly $15 million in cash against a whopping $2.1 billion in debt. Thanks to big property impairment charges in 2008 and 2009, the company also has a negative net worth.

And while SandRidge's income statement may not look terrible when you adjust for those big impairments, its cash flows show a company that has historically spent way more on capital projects than it brings in from the business.

However, quite a few CAPS members -- 736 of them to be precise -- see market-beating potential from SandRidge and its natural gas operations. Many of these SandRidge bulls are betting on smart leadership from CEO and Chairman Tom Ward, whom investors may know as a co-founder of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK).

CAPS member handbelleditor is one of these Tom Ward fans and gave the stock a thumbs-up over the summer saying:

This is a well run company...Tom Ward knows the natural gas business. NG is at an all time low and will not remain this low. I expect NG and Sandridge to appreciate in the next few months.

But what do you think?
Do these stocks have what it takes to post solid growth in this economy? Or have analysts been too optimistic? More than 145,000 members of the free CAPS community are sharing opinions on thousands of stocks. Head over and let the community know what you think of Microsoft, SandRidge, or any of the other stocks listed above.

Not all stocks can be winners, and picking out the laggards is an important job for investors. To help out, I've put together three signs of a terrible investment.

Chesapeake Energy and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. MercadoLibre and NYSE Euronext are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Buffalo Wild Wings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Options diagonal call recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out the stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS page or you can connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy likes to keep it simple -- make your disclosure properly and you don't get put in the dreaded triangle choke.