Penny stocks can make you rich.

Need proof? Every one of these multi-baggers was, at one time, a penny stock:

Company

Recent Price

CAPS Stars (out of 5)

5-Year Return

Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN)

$32.45

***

1,252.1%

Arena Resources (NYSE:ARD)

$23.50

***

691.2%

Ebix (NASDAQ:EBIX)

$24.72

****

584.8%

EZCORP (NASDAQ:EZPW)

$14.55

****

546.7%

Sun Hydraulics (NASDAQ:SNHY)

$14.04

*****

295.5%

Sources: Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance.

The promise of outrageous returns is why some of the world's best stock pickers are, at times, penny stock investors. Peter Lynch has enjoyed the stock market's super-cheap seats, and at times he still does. The Royce Low-Priced Stock fund crushes the market by betting on stocks trading near or below $10 a share, such as Cryptologic (NASDAQ:CRYP).

Even the All-Stars in our 120,000-plus Motley Fool CAPS community take to penny stocks. More than a few have been richly rewarded.

Pennies from heaven
So why not invest in penny stocks? I suppose because the SEC has warned us about them. But what if we take the agency's definition literally and limit our choices to stocks trading between $1.50 and $5 a share? And what if we further limit our choices to four- and five-star stocks whose market cap doesn't exceed $2 billion, but is at least $250 million? Surely our new CAPS screener would return some winners, right?

This week, 69 stocks made the cut -- including our last topper, Gushan Environmental. Let's move on to CapitalSource (NYSE:CSE), which has a strong following in our CAPS community:

Metric

CapitalSource

CAPS stars (out of 5)

*****

Total ratings

1,717

Bullish ratings

1,650

Percent bulls

97.3%

Bearish ratings

67

Percent bears

2.7%

Bullish pitches

263

Bearish pitches

17

Data current as of Nov. 18, 2008.

As CAPS investor ValueArbitrage wrote in September:

Unlike so many commercial or investment banks today, CapitalSource is a bank with ultra low leverage and an outstanding team of managers who are focused on credit quality analytics for credit decisions, full use of collateral, and conservative lending practices (no 40x leverage and volume at any cost production processes here). Additionally, this company is currently going through a significant transformation, positioning itself to be both stronger and more profitable in the future.

Our Fool is referring to a shift in CapitalSource's business model. No longer will it be a REIT but a commercial bank. The FDIC has already approved its application, which leaves just the Federal Reserve standing in the way of its transformation. Most investors appear to believe that the Fed will step aside soon enough.

Once they do, CapitalSource will take on commercial lending business that -- due to the credit crisis -- has been vacated by others. A meaty and well-capitalized dividend, yielding 4.80% as of this writing, means that today's investors will be paid to wait for the higher profits that banking promises.

Years could pass before we see them, but it should happen eventually, argues TMFHelical. His study of management shows a history of very successful spin-offs and restructurings. "So while I still tire of hearing about the loaning 'opportunities' available in the market, I do have some confidence that management can indeed exploit them," he recently posted at the discussion boards for our Million Dollar Portfolio service.

Agreed, but I'm more interested to know what you think. Would you buy shares of CapitalSource at today's prices? Let us know by signing up for CAPS today. It's 100% free to participate.

See you back here next week with another penny stock from heaven. Fool on!

Each month, the Fool's Hidden Gems service spotlights promising micro-cap opportunities in a segment called Tiny Gems. Try this market-beating service risk-free for 30 days to find out what our penny-stock sleuths are following now.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers also contributes to the market-beating Rule Breakers service, whose recommendations include Ebix. CryptoLogic and Sun Hydraulics are Hidden Gems picks. CapitalSource is an Income Investor recommendation.

Tim owned shares of Gushan Environmental at the time of publication. The Motley Fool owned shares of CapitalSource. Its disclosure policy was small and cuddly. Once.