"'Don't catch a falling knife' ... The idea of buying a former superstar stock at a discount price certainly has its attractions, but you've got to make sure you catch the haft -- not the blade."

So runs the thesis of my recurring Fool column "Get Ready for the Bounce," in which we search among the wreckage of Mr. Market's overturned cutlery drawer, hoping to find future winners in a pile of 52-week losers. But do we really need to sit around for a whole year, waiting for a potential bouncer?

I say nay. Sometimes, stocks fall far in far less time than a year -- and like a superball dropped from the balcony, the harder they fall, the higher they bounce. Today, we're going to look at a few equities that've suffered dramatic drops over the past week. With a little help from the 160,000 members of Motley Fool CAPS, we hope to find an opportunity or two for you:

Companies

How Far From 52-Week High?

Recent Price

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Valero (NYSE: VLO)

-20%

$18.52

*****

Alcoa (NYSE: AA)

-32%

$12.00

****

General Electric (NYSE: GE)

-14%

$16.88

****

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ)

-15%

$46.73

***

Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG)

-18%

$324.32

***

Companies are selected by screening on finviz.com for abrupt 10% or greater price drops over the past week. 52-week high and recent price data provided by finviz.com. CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

Five super falls -- one superball
Last week offered investors more ups and downs than a Busch Gardens rollercoaster, but the reasons for the raucous moves were often mysterious. On the obvious (and negative) side, we saw Intuitive Surgical lambasted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, accused of marketing its surgical robots to hospitals as a profitable investment (horrors!), and with the implication that the device might not be 100% safe for surgical neophytes to use.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard had no one to blame but itself for its troubles. The company's decision to spend $1.2 billion buying Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) at a premium -- when that company was arguably fast-approaching a zero price tag -- has left investors less than impressed with H-P's financial acumen ... and even less interested in owning the shares.

In contrast, Alcoa's drop seems baseless. The nation's largest aluminum smelter warned last week that it sees demand for its signature product dropping in 2010 in the aerospace and construction markets ... but rising in automotive, and on the whole, rising across the globe. The stock's down more than 10% for the week, but that just makes CAPS members love Alcoa all the more.

Similarly, GE is down despite the company's plan to continue reducing exposure to the financial sector by unloading a $3.8 billion stake in Turkey's Garanti Bank. Seriously? This is bad news? Not according to CAPS investors, who still rate the stock a buy.

Least logical of all, though, is the sell-off at Valero. The company has announced a series of minor snafus in recent days -- a two-hour shutdown at one refinery Friday, following a reduction in output at a coker unit Tuesday, and a fire at a Memphis refinery that caused "minor" damage and "minimal" impact on fuel production. But does all this add up to an 11% reduction in the company's value? I don't think so... and I'm not alone.

The bull case for Valero Energy
Mystone thinks the reasons for buying America's largest independent oil refinery are pretty clear-cut: 

Gas prices rising. Ticker near 5-year lows. Good time to buy.

Is bigger better? Maybe not always, but it may be in this instance. CAPS member DanClapp argues Valero "is one of the best petro producing refineries," while donhuebner praises the company's "great management."

Best of all, CAPS All-Star wbinv2100 predicts that Valero's stock: 

... has the potential for huge profit if the economy rebounds. It's sales have topped over a $100 billion, but has only a $10 billion market cap. This industry has high leverage ... increases in gas prices will drop to the bottom line.

Yes, Valero investors, there is a Santa Claus
And yes, Virginia, summer and the vacation driving season are just around the corner. With them will come increased gasoline consumption, and with that, perhaps higher profit margins for the nation's leading independent refiner -- Valero.

Longer-term, well, we just saw the jobs number come out -- 290,000 more Americans collecting paychecks this month than last. 290,000 more consumers who can afford to fill up the gas tank. Timing the recovery of a cyclical industry like oil refining is never an easy task, but it seems to me that after a year of losing money and burning cash, the company may finally be due for a rebound -- in business, and in stock price.

Time to chime in
Right now, Valero's selling for barely a quarter of its $80 share price of just three years ago, yet the company boasts better operating margins, and a lower forward P/E ratio, than rivals like Tesoro (NYSE: TSO). Is it time to start planning for a rebound? Click over to Motley Fool CAPS now, and tell us what you think.

Intuitive Surgical is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find Rich on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 519 out of more than 160,000 members. The Fool has a disclosure policy.