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 100,000-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 and track investor sentiment to help determine the best time to invest. Let's look at low-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 (5 Max)

Recent Price

1-Year Return

DRDGOLD (Nasdaq: DROOY)

***

$8.41

2.6%

China Sunergy (Nasdaq: CSUN)

***

$9.86

(17.8%)*

Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR)

***

$14.10

(26.8%)

Altair Nanotechnologies (Nasdaq: ALTI)

***

$2.18

(28.3%)

iPass

***

$2.16

(59.2%)

*China Sunergy began trading on May 17, 2007, at $12.00 per share.

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.

All charged up
I'm not typically a tree-hugging, granola-eating type. I have no problem eating fistfuls of red meat or driving gas-guzzling SUVs or high-performance sports cars. While I don't smoke, I will raise a frosty mug of beer to your right to kill yourself with that guilty pleasure.

The point is, the Toyota (NYSE: TM) Prius just doesn't give me the warm fuzzies. It doesn't matter, though, whether it's Ford (NYSE: F), Toyota, or Honda (NYSE: HMC) -- design is seemingly all too often a secondary consideration. They're boxy, pedestrian vehicles that don't grab you unless you really, really want to be like Hollywood heartthrobs Brad Pitt and Ed Begley Jr.

That's why I'm actually interested in the next-generation green cars coming to market. The new Tesla Roadster and the Ferrari 430 Spider Bio Fuel not only kiss the environment gently, but they're cars a man can feel good about getting into. I'm seriously considering an all-electric car that would not need to stop for gas -- ever -- yet can still hit higher-than-posted speed limits.

To get to that point, though, the automakers need batteries that can take you long distances without stopping for a recharge. Altair Nano has long held out the promise that its lithium-ion batteries will be just the thing to power those next-generation cars. Unfortunately, until now it hasn't been able to make the leap from the hype to production and has actually been more interesting in terms of its executive turnover than its batteries. Having ousted its CEO and moved its CFO to direct programs and contracts, it seems Altair may finally be transitioning from development-stage company to production.

Investors are pretty stoked with Altair's technology, if it can ultimately prove itself. CAPS investor energydeal, writing a month ago, thinks it can succeed:

This stock is in the center to TWO major industry needs, transformation of the auto industry and renewable energy storage for the global electric grids. This company will get bought within 6 months. Both opportunities are too big to [ignore] for Seimens, GE and the Japanese.

CAPS investor maxten agrees but notes the risks:

I believe that ALTI will be snatched up by or will partner with a major OEM of autos in the next couple of years. I believe the rush to develop [battery] technology will force auto makers to take short cuts in acquiring the technology. Very speculative play however.

It may also mean I get my supercharged, green car sooner rather than later.

Shine your starlight
So does Altair Nano rev your engines? 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 post your thoughts, why not use this opportunity to take your star turn?

Shine a light on 30 days of free stock picks with any Fool investment service.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Ford, but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.