Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. Yet for every stock out there screaming "buy me," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. How can we tell tomorrow's obviously great investments from the thousands of pretenders?

The stars' walk of fame
On Motley Fool CAPS, these opportunities can be found among our four-star stocks. In CAPS' proprietary ratings system, they rank higher than most of the other 5,400 starred companies, but they're just shy of superstardom. While all the attention might be focused on their five-star peers, we can sift through CAPS to find four-star firms approaching greatness. Here's a handful of them:

  • Altria (NYSE: MO)
  • Dynegy (NYSE: DYN)
  • Mahindra Satyam (NYSE: SAY)
  • Melco Crown Entertainment (Nasdaq: MPEL)
  • United States Steel (NYSE: X)

Some of these names might surprise you. For example, United States Steel was once a symbol of America's crumbling manufacturing sector but became an icon of its resurgence. Almost great? Even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold.

And despite Mahindra Satyam still having to repair its tarnished reputation and ward off further incursions on its share by Infosys, a complete takeover by parent Tech Mahindra may occur sooner than previously forecast. However, the 165,000-plus CAPS members chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys, so let's see why they might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness?
There are lots of reasons why you shouldn't consider Altria for your portfolio, but the awesomeness of its brand power to generate considerable cash flows means you can't dismiss it out of hand either. With inelastic demand for its product giving it the discretion to raise prices (and thus its profits) virtually at will, its 6.3% dividend yield makes it an attractive cash cow for you.

Sure, there is the risk of lawsuits, but that's endemic to the industry and is factored into the price. You don't go in buying a cigarette company without realizing there is some state AG standing in the wings waiting to make a name for himself by dropping a new lawsuit on the industry. But where Reynolds American and Lorillard face the same uncertainty, Altria has its top brand, Marlboro, commanding 42% of the market.

Growth opportunities might be limited, unlike at Phillip Morris (NYSE: PMI) where the international market still offer expansion potential, but smokeless products, such as those just acquired in its purchase of UST still give it room to move. Equally useful in times of market volatility, CAPS member 6cents thinks it provides investors with a bit of stability in their portfolios, at least for the meantime.

It was passe a few years back, but is making a comeback. The yield on this company is almost 7%. The tobacco sector has been up 0.36% the last month. The downside is; Tobacco is no longer king. There are still court cases pending. Federal and State Gov't. issues, etc.

On the shoulders of giants
As the market re-evaluates and appreciates Altria's potential, investors have moved its stock up to new 52-week highs. That means the re-evaluation going on at Dynegy suggests they do not like the potential emanating from the utility. The stock is in a tailspin, losing three quarters of its value over the past year, and continues to head lower.

It would appear with good reason. Real GDP growth fell further than anticipated, coming in at just 2.4% growth. Factory orders were off 1.2% in June, more than double the 0.5% decline economists predicted. Employers planning layoffs rose 6% in July, exacerbating an already untenable employment picture. Personal income and spending growth is virtually non-existent. Pending home sales are at record lows. Yada, yada, yada. For a company dependent on expanding demand for electricity, the above doesn't paint a very electrifying picture.

Still, Dynegy was able to surprise Wall Street, topping analyst forecasts last quarter, lending credence to the overwhelming majority of CAPS members rating Dynegy to outperform the broad market averages. If it's affecting Dynegy, then it's going to be impacting everyone from Dominion Resources (NYSE: D) to NRG Energy. But why not plug your opinion into the Dynegy CAPS page?

A big opportunity
Look for Melco Crown Entertainment to go on a hot streak as gambling returns to Macau, as revenues in the casino getaway island surged 70% in July. While the rest of the year may not seem so great only because of tougher year-over-year comparison, it cements Macau's place as a destination to hit.

Melco has a 15% share of the market in Macau, and CAPS investor SlyMiah says that with its pieces in place, it won't need luck to win big.

Now that a majority of the infrastructure is in place, this stock will see increased revenue in the coming year. As this is realized, more people will flock to this stock. The low P/B and high revenue growth make it very attractive. The refinancing of debt, criticized as expensive, likely will be overcome by revenue growth.

A great time for you
Investor sentiment suggests these four-star investments still seem to be on their way to five-star greatness, but it pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made all from a stock's CAPS page.

Sign up today for the completely free service and let us hear what you have to say about the great and almost great companies that interest you.

Melco Crown Entertainment is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Dominion Resources is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Altria Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a gold-plated disclosure policy.