Individual stocks can surge 10%, 25%, or even higher in a short period of time. And they can fall just as far, just as quickly. For example, shares of Tenet Healthcare fell 17.5% Tuesday after the company said it was looking to buy Australian hospital Healthscope, causing analysts and investors to worry that the deal might add even more debt and risk to its highly leveraged balance sheet.

Big drops in share price can sometimes signal material defects or new risks. But at other times, they're simply pullbacks along with the larger pessimism facing the market. Fortunately, we have Motley Fool CAPS, a great resource to help us understand the larger picture behind big price drops.

Is the sky falling?
CAPS contains more than just the crowd's opinions. Its best-performing members' votes count more in shaping each company's rating than do the picks of their poorer-performing peers. That way, investors can intelligently use the collective wisdom of more than 165,000 CAPS members to make better decisions.

We'll use CAPS' handy stock screening tool to quickly zero in on companies with three factors: their prices have fallen at least 15% in the last four weeks, and they have a market cap greater than $100 million and a beta of less than 3.

Company

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

4-Week
Price Change

MBIA (NYSE: MBI)

*

(20.5%)

Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC)

***

(28.5%)

Noble (NYSE: NE)

*****

(24.4%)

Source: Motley Fool CAPS.
Price return May 7 through June 1.

MBIA
Times are still tough for bond insurers MBIA and rival Ambac Financial (NYSE: ABK), which both recently posted more quarterly losses. Even though competitor Assured Guaranty (NYSE: AGO) is still writing new business -- the only one doing so -- its new business saw a big drop in the first quarter. MBIA has taken a hit on many fronts as credit derivatives losses, lower premiums, and a decrease in investment income all contributed to its dismal first quarter.

With the company still tangled in legal issues with numerous parties, CAPS members aren't too keen on its future, with only about 53% of the 963 members rating MBIA expecting it to beat the broader market. 

Anadarko and Noble
With a 25% ownership in the leaking Gulf of Mexico Macondo well, Anadarko has seen its shares tank alongside BP's and Transocean's as the catastrophe grows in scope and cost. The vexing issue has also affected credit default swaps for the companies, as the cost to insure the debt of each company has reached record highs.

With a Houston research firm estimating total liability costs of the spill as high as $40 billion, analysts and investors are growing more and more troubled by just how much Anadarko and the others will be on the hook for, on top of potential new regulations and restrictions.

While not directly involved with the current leak, offshore driller Noble has seen its shares fall since the incident. The Obama administration's latest order to halt exploratory drilling in deep waters of the Gulf could have an effect on Noble, as well as oil majors Chevron (NYSE: CVX) and Shell (NYSE: RDS-A).

Chevron and Shell have a large presence in the Gulf and could be forced to delay project plans, and Noble could be left with idle rigs as a result. But with the U.S. making up a small percentage of Noble's rig count, CAPS members remain overwhelmingly bullish, and also still stand behind Anadarko.

When comparing bulls and bears, 96% of the 1,455 CAPS members rating Anadarko expect it to outperform the broader market, while close to 99% of the 2,184 members rating Noble see it beating the S&P.

Ultimately, whether you believe a fall in any stock is warranted, your own research is more important than collective opinions. CAPS can help you quickly focus your due diligence, and even point out potential pitfalls you may not have seen.

Add your take on these or any of the 5,400 stocks that 165,000-plus members have covered in Motley Fool CAPS. It's totally free to be a part of the community, and the payback is more than worth it.

Fool contributor Dave Mock habitually looks for silver linings in even the darkest of clouds. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here. The Fool's disclosure policy is made of sugar and spice and everything nice.