Resist the urge to high-five everyone in the cubicles next to you. Your stock may have just strapped on a rocket pack and taken off for the moon, but smart investors won't celebrate until they know that upward leap was justified. Without a fundamental basis for the bounce, these stocks can quickly make the return trip down.

Is now the time to lock in profits, or is this just the first step toward even higher valuations down the road? Let's examine several stocks that just hit the afterburners and see whether they're truly headed into orbit.


CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Yesterday's Change

Delta Petroleum (Nasdaq: DPTR) **** 18.17%
Columbia Labs (Nasdaq: CBRX) * 15.95%
Novavax (Nasdaq: NVAX) * 11.11%

The market ended February with a strong run, rising nearly 100 points, or almost 1%, as oil prices halted their meteoric rise. The market actually climbed almost 3% for the month, making it the third straight month it ended up, so stocks that went up by even larger percentages are bigger deals still.

New frontiers in investing
There was no particular news driving Delta Petroleum's shares higher yesterday. The troubled oil company recently moved to Nasdaq's Capital Market exchange for the Global Market, akin to bowling with bumpers up on the lanes. To bowl in the big leagues again, one of the things Delta is going to have to do is have its stock trade higher than $1 a share for 30 days, and yesterday's move certainly helped in that regard, with some traders noting bullish option activity for Delta.

Although other independent oil and gas exploration companies like Callon Petroleum (NYSE: CPE) and Brigham Exploration (Nasdaq: BEXP) trade at much higher valuations relative to their book value than does Delta, their prospects are seen as much better without having suffered the same setbacks Delta has. Paying up for quality is often worth it.

CAPS member information9 says that with Delta's low production volumes, any real hope it has for growing won't be based on pumping more oil anytime soon:

We can always hope this stock outperforms over the next few years but we have to realize that these folks only pull out a few hundred barrels a day so upward movements will only follow the market price of oil. Nat gas will remain dirt cheap for the next several years.

Let us know on the Delta Petroleum CAPS page what you expect the stock to do next.

A clean sweep
Columbia Labs was another top performer yesterday, moving higher on no company-specific news, though next week it will be making a presentation at a health-care conference on its novel bioadhesive drug delivery technologies.

Shares of the drug delivery specialist languished around the $1 mark for most of the year but surged in December after reporting positive results in late-stage studies on its progesterone gel Crinone, which is marketed here in the U.S. by Watson Pharmaceuticals for infertility treatment and for secondary amenorrhea, or the lack of a menstrual period. The recent studies were for reducing the risk of preterm births in women with a short cervical length. Columbia has several delivery systems on the market that it either markets directly or has others, like Novartis (NYSE: NVS) unit Sandoz, distribute.

But CAPS All-Stars are not impressed yet with Columbia since only a little more than half of those rating the medical firm think it will outperform the broad market averages. But you can add Columbia to your watchlist to have all the Foolish news and analysis gathered together for you in one place. Then head over to the Columbia Labs CAPS page and let us know if it can keep on reaching new market highs.

The sky's the limit
The floodgates have opened, and all the pent-up enthusiasm for stocks getting government contracts related to antivirals and vaccines is rushing forth. Last week, SIGA Technologies (Nasdaq: SIGA) won big after the government essentially rewrote the rules to all but guarantee it would win a Health and Human Services Department antiviral contract. Yesterday, Novavax won an HHS contract to develop vaccines for the prevention of seasonal and pandemic influenza.

Novavax was one of the biotechs benefiting from the H1N1 pandemic fears previously, and the contract for $97 million over three years cements its leadership position. Better still, the contract might be extended for an additional two years, which would be worth another $82 million.

Last December, CAPS All-Star TrafficDesign noted the value such contracts hold for small biotechs like Novavax:

FDA clearance on anything these days is like gold, and I doubt they will screw it up. Because of this I stick with my GREEN thumb prediction and wish the company the best of luck. If they come out with new and better vaccines each year, I think we will have a real winner on our hands.

Add Novavax to the Fool's free portfolio tracker and stay on top of all the developments coming out of this biotech leader.

Going into orbit
That's why it pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS, where you can read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made, all from the stock's CAPS page. Then you can decide for yourself whether your stock is headed for re-entry, or off to infinity and beyond.

Exelixis and Vertex Pharmaceuticals are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Gilead Sciences is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Novartis is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Exelixis, and Medtronic. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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 disclosure policy.