Even on the market's worst days, buyout news and other short-term forces can send individual stocks up by 10%, 25%, even 50%. For example, when Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) agreed to pay $195 million for Encysive Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ENCY), stock in the latter jumped a whopping 110% in a single day.

But beyond one-time blips like this are stocks with compelling reasons for recent momentum -- provided you can find them. That's where Motley Fool CAPS comes in.

The story behind the story
CAPS is no crowd of lemmings; its best-performing investors' opinions do more to shape each company's rating than the picks of their poorer-performing peers. Let's use the collective wisdom of more than 85,000 CAPS investors to filter out the noise and find companies showing strong momentum.

We'll screen for companies with a stock-price increase of at least 25% in the past month, a market cap of greater than $100 million, and a beta of less than 3. That'll keep us clear of the wild, pump-and-dump land of penny stocks.

Here's a sample of stocks our screen returned:

Company

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

1-Month
Price Change

Mechel

*****

43.2%

Taseko Mines (AMEX: TGB)

*****

34.5%

Walter Industries (NYSE: WLT)

****

28.6%

Stillwater Mining (NYSE: SWC)

***

61.6%

The Finish Line (Nasdaq: FINL)

**

78.0%

Return data is calculated as the difference between the closing price on Feb. 1 and the closing price on March 4, as per MSN Money's screen. Star ranking from CAPS. Data as of March 4.

Let's burrow down through this list of stocks that have thumped the market in the past month and find out why they've performed so well.

Where's Walter?
Just like those annoying "Where's Waldo?" cereal box puzzles, finding which sector Walter Industries was working in was a challenge. Not long ago, the Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation operated divisions in water infrastructure, homebuilding, and coal mining. After spinning out its Mueller Water Products group in an IPO in 2006, Walter was left with its homebuilding and mortgage finance division and the metallurgical coal business.

But shares of Walter have caught fire (in a good way) recently as optimism grows over strategies to separate the homebuilding unit from the rest of the company, a process the company wants to complete this year.

Along with its fourth-quarter earnings release, the company announced it was shutting nearly half of its poorer-performing home sales branches and significantly restructuring the management of the division. The goal is to move Walter Industries out of the path of the housing train wreck, which has affected both the homebuilding and financing business.

Many investors couldn't be happier that Walter is now determined to focus on mining metallurgical coal. The company sees production increasing by 20% in 2008, and commodity prices remain strong. Confident that the company is taking the right steps toward growth, more than 95% of the 970 CAPS investors rating the company think it has great prospects and that it will outperform the S&P in the future.

Sprinting for the red flag
Athletic retailer The Finish Line tripped over its laces last year in leveling an ill-conceived leveraged bid for Genesco. The company received a resounding boo from investors; Fool retail analyst David Meier said it was a bad idea from the start. But the deal quickly went sideways, and Finish Line found itself stuck in shoes that were three sizes too small, claiming that Genesco was hiding material information that would affect the merger agreement.

Not long ago, Finish Line shareholders thought they'd be forced to complete the merger, but just this past Monday the parties -- and financier UBS (NYSE: UBS) -- agreed to scuttle the merger with UBS and Finish Line paying Genesco $175 million in cash, as well as a significant portion of Finish Line common stock. Genesco now has a 12% stake in the company.

The settlement caused Finish Line stock to soar, but CAPS investors aren't sold on Finish Line's future. Of the 160 investors rating the company, 46 are bearish and say the company will lag the market in the future. Even with those cool running shoes.

What's your story? Whether you buy the tale of a soaring or a souring stock, your own research is more important than collective opinions. But these collective opinions do make an individual's due diligence a whole lot easier.

Add your take on these or any of the 5,400 stocks our 85,000-plus investors cover in Motley Fool CAPS. It's totally free to be a part of the community, and the payback is more than worth it.

Walter Industries has soared 157% since it was first recommended as a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Pfizer is an Inside Value and Income Investor recommendation. Mueller Water is also a Hidden Gems recommendation. Check out what other gems lead analysts Tom Gardner and Bill Mann recommend with a free 30-day trial to the service.

Fool contributor Dave Mock has his own story, but the details are complicated. He owns shares of Pfizer. Dave is the author of The Qualcomm Equation. The Fool's disclosure policy has the momentum of a freight train, but can stop on a dime.