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, companies that rank higher than most of the other 5,400 starred companies, but fall just short of a top ranking. 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 are a handful of stocks that are approaching greatness.

  • China Unicom (NYSE: CHU)
  • City Telecom (Nasdaq: CTEL)
  • Golden Star Resources (NYSE: GSS)
  • The Pantry (Nasdaq: PTRY)
  • Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI)

Some of these names might surprise you. For example, despite profits plummeting by 50% at No. 2 Chinese telecom China Unicom, investors no doubt note that the drop was precipitated by an increase in depreciation. Revenues are still rising sharply. Almost great? Even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold.

Thomson Reuters is also the name behind the news, whether business or for general consumption, and its results were also skewed by one-time impacts that shouldn't mar the growth occurring underneath. Yet as the 170,000-plus CAPS members have chosen these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys, let's see why they might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness?
Does Hong Kong's City Telecom have global ambitions? As it stalks China's leading broadband provider, PCCW, to become the second-largest in the country, City Telecom has decided it's important to have its managers speak English. Employees looking to qualify for promotions will have to demonstrate a higher command of the English language.

With a greater percentage of employees in a customer-facing position, and larger numbers of English-speaking customers in the areas of its greatest growth, City Telecom is looking to adopt a "private banking"-style account management system to differentiate itself from the mass hotline queues customers are all too familiar with.

The customer-centric focus must be working, because the telecom says it snared 93% of all the market growth that occurred last year. An audacious claim, but they also say not only are they larger than the next two competitors combined, but they own almost two-thirds of all the broadband connections in Hong Kong that have fiber to the home.

While CAPS All-Stars are cautious about buying into the hype (25% of those rating the telcom think it won't outperform the market), Wall Street is unanimously behind their efforts. You can dial up your opinion on the City Telecom CAPS page and let us know if it's going to ring up profits.

Dirt cheap?
With gold back over $1,400 an ounce, it's hard to believe that a gold miner like Golden Star Resources is falling so much. Where miners like Yamana (NYSE: AUY) and Goldcorp (NYSE: GG) are up 9% and 13%, respectively, over the past month, Golden Star is down more than 18%. Its Bogoso mine in Ghana, for which gold bugs had high expectations, ended up producing less-than-hoped-for recoveries. In fact, they actually fell 28% and the junior miner reported losses well beyond analyst expectations.

The big sell-off in the stock has CAPS member RandysRetiring thinking the market is making more out of the loss than it warrants, and the broader CAPS community thinks Golden Star will ultimately shine, with 94% of those rating it looking for a comeback.

Add the junior miner to the Fool's free portfolio tracker and keep an eye on all the news and analysis that develops.

On the level
Because of its reliance on gasoline sales, convenience store operator The Pantry has found its results all over the place lately, and it can't count on the upheaval under way in the Middle East pushing gas prices higher to help matters. While total sales jumped 4% in the fourth quarter and same-store sales were up 1.3%, fuel sales comps fell more than 5%, and its future guidance wasn't particularly cheery either.

Yet some analysts see cause for hope in its turnaround strategy that's predicated in part on it becoming less reliant upon selling gas. CAPS members are pretty bullish, too, with 92% of the 232 who have rated the stock looking for shares to beat the market going forward.

Add the convenience store operator to your personalized watchlist and make sure to head over to The Pantry CAPS page and check out what might be on tap to fuel its growth.

A great opportunity 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.

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