On some market days, the headlines are filled with news of individual stocks whose shares have soared over the past year. Other times, investors are bombarded with statistics of how an entire group of stocks -- from a certain sector or industry -- has outpaced the general market.

The Internet is one such sector that continues to show investors that there really was some substance beneath all of the hype in the late 1990s. Companies such as Google, eBay, and Priceline.com are not just surviving on the Internet -- they're thriving.

But I can tell you tales of investments from another sector beating the pants off Internet stocks ... and where you can find out more about them.

Would the real hot stocks please come forward?
By using Motley Fool CAPS, investors can get detailed information and community intelligence on not only individual stocks but also entire sectors, regions, and industries.

Any of the 5,300 rated stocks profiled in CAPS can be "tagged" with a descriptor that groups the company with others that share a certain quality, such as a country of origin, a sector, or an end product. A single click on the Internet Information Providers tag pulls up a list of 33 stocks that -- as a group -- have risen a market-thrashing 25.4% in the past year.

Using the tags in CAPS can lead you to a group of stocks that have more than doubled the return of stocks in the Internet Information Providers group -- solar power. Within this popular niche of the "green" energy sector, this tag's 26 companies have risen an even more impressive 67% in the past year. Granted, the reasons behind the dramatic growth could be quite different for each company. But CAPS can help us dig under the surface.

From macro to micro
You can sort tag groups quickly by their CAPS ratings, denoted by one to five stars, with five being the best. Then you can view individual companies to show details of just who -- from Wall Street to Main Street -- is bullish or bearish on the company and why. For instance, here are a few of the highest-rated stocks -- and one low-rated company -- in the Internet group.

Company

CAPS Rating

1-Year Performance

NetEase.com (NASDAQ:NTES)

*****

11%

Baidu.com (NASDAQ:BIDU)

*****

249%

Travelzoo (NASDAQ:TZOO)

*

(51%)

Source: Google Finance and Motley Fool CAPS, as of Dec. 7.

Now, here's a sampling of solar power stocks that -- judging by interest in the CAPS community -- investors may want to consider:

Company

CAPS Rating

1-Year Performance

Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE:STP)

****

150%

Energy Conversion Devices (NASDAQ:ENER)

****

(15%)

MEMC Electronic Materials (NYSE:WFR)

****

88%

Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT)

****

1%

Source: Google Finance and Motley Fool CAPS, as of Dec. 7.

Some investors may recall Applied Materials' long history of being a "pick and shovel" supplier to the semiconductor industry. The global demand for solar photovoltaic cells means that many now view the company in a new light; Applied Materials supplies many solar companies with equipment, software, and the assemblies necessary to build solar panels and products.

A solid contingent of CAPS investors believe its aggressive expansion into the solar-energy sector will benefit the company: More than 92% of investors rating the company think it will beat the broader market going forward.

Meanwhile, founded in 2001 and based in Wuxi, China, we have Suntech Power, a leading supplier of photovoltaic cells and modules to a range of industrial and commercial industries. The demand for low-cost solar power has pushed Suntech to ramp up capacity dramatically, even ahead of its ambitious target of 1 gigawatt of production capacity by 2010. The company now envisions reaching this level in 2008, and it is reaping the benefits -- sales in the most recent quarter jumped 137%.

Suntech is sitting in the solar-catbird-seat in many respects. The company has worked with suppliers and secured enough silicon to produce more than 530 megawatts' worth of solar modules in 2008. Since wafer suppliers themselves are strapped with supply constraints, having the raw materials already in place for next year gives Suntech a huge advantage.

CAPS investors largely believe that this and other advantages will power Suntech's stock as well: More than 96% of CAPS investors vote for the company to beat the market in the future.

Before you buy ...
Of course, investors don't want to be looking in the rear-view mirror to find out where they should be investing now. But the underlying reasons behind dramatic run-ups in stocks or groups of stocks can clarify macroeconomic trends that may significantly affect investments. 

No matter where investing ideas come from, investors should always perform their own due diligence and not follow crowds or individual recommendations.

Suntech Power has returned 157% since being recommended in the Motley Fool Rule Breakers service in June 2006. To see what other stocks David Gardner reckons will change the world -- and your portfolio -- for the better, take a free trial to Rule Breakers with no obligation.

When it comes to running long distances, Fool contributor Dave Mock says he lags more than he leads. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here. Dave is the author of The Qualcomm Equation. Baidu.com, Netease.com, and Suntech are Rule Breakers recommendations. eBay and Priceline.com are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool's disclosure policy beats all other disclosure policies, year in and year out.