Think of investor sentiment as a pendulum that swings in tandem with a company's share price. When investors begin to think highly of your company, its stock might also start heading in the right direction. Alas, you can rarely tell when investors are warming to a stock until after it's made that upward swing.

An astrolabe for investors
But Motley Fool CAPS' proprietary ratings, aggregated from the opinions and accuracy of 95,000-plus investors, offer a great way to monitor investor sentiment. Like astronomers scanning the skies, investors can follow a stock's stars through its CAPS rating trend, tracking investor sentiment to help determine the best time to invest. Let's look at one- or two-star-rated companies that have recently enjoyed a bump in investor confidence and see whether the stars are really aligning in their favor.

Company

CAPS Rating (Out of 5)

Recent Price

1-Year Return

Akeena Solar (NASDAQ:AKNS)

***

$8.32

177.3%*

Concur Technologies (NASDAQ:CNQR)

***

$31.00

75.6%

Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB)

***

$34.17

(9.0%)

Career Education (NASDAQ:CECO)

***

$15.91

(48.0%)

SourceForge (NASDAQ:LNUX)

***

$1.96

(52.0%)

*Akeena Solar began trading on May 7, 2007.

Obviously, this is not a list of stocks to buy -- just a starting point for further research. Yet if some of the best investing minds are taking notice of these stocks, maybe we should, too. 

A simmering opportunity
As we noted last week, it seems that solar energy has the best chance of helping the U.S. wean itself off its dependence on foreign oil. Akeena is a U.S.-based solar company with the wherewithal to turn the sun's energy into profits.

Last year, solar companies were all the rage. They earned incredible valuations as investors flocked to them. Akeena, which went public last May, peaked later and fell further than most of its rivals. Only First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) -- another of the handful of domestic companies that has the capacity to ramp up projects in short order -- has recovered more ground.

Akeena's new Andalay panels strike an appeal to both aesthetics and economics -- so much so that even Suntech Power (NYSE: STP) has contracted to license and distribute them. Akeena also significantly expanded its line of credit last June, suggestive of a plan to expand production capacity. With the Suntech deal, such an expansion seems more plausible. The stock has responded in kind: After falling nearly 75% from their January high, Akeena's shares have gained some traction by almost doubling from their lows earlier this month.

Investors seem to believe that Akeena's relationship with the end user provides something of a competitive advantage over other solar companies. CAPS investor esfgreen sees doing the actual installations as an advantage, giving Akeena a bigger market to tap into:

This stock has weathered the market of late. [Its] price has been around the $5 - $7 mark. Since this company also does installation of solar panels, I believe they have a larger market to tap into. My prediction is that as summer comes around and construction picks back up, you will see solar stocks begin to climb again. This stock I believe is in good shape to rebound this summer.

CAPS All-Star StocksForCash, with a 98.31 rating, noted back in January that Akeena is uniquely positioned to rise:

The company has successfully launched their proprietary Andalay installation technology and has an agreement with Suntech that should see them through 2008 needs. Money in the bank, no debt, and a banking relationship with Comerica to help customers finance their solar installation costs. Revenues have been on the rise and the company seems well positioned for the foreseeable future. Nice small cap company with a chart that has only just begun to get its indicators moving. I like the prospects and I definitely like the chart. Solar is a hot sector and this could be a major player.

Shine your starlight
So does Akeena have the sunny future that CAPS investors suspect it does? Well, we haven't yet heard from you, and at Motley Fool CAPS, every investor's opinion counts. Your voice could determine whether these stocks become shooting stars or supernovas. Since it's free to sign up and post your thoughts, why not use this opportunity to take your star turn?