There are plenty of strategies for picking stock winners. You can seek out low-P/E stocks, for example. Or you can find companies selling at a discount to their future cash flows. At the small-cap stock-picking service Motley Fool Hidden Gems, our analysts look for winners by staying ahead of the market and finding undervalued stocks that have gone overlooked.

Yet what if we could find a way to whittle down our list of prospects beforehand and find those whose engines are just getting warmed up?

Using the investor-intelligence database of Motley Fool CAPS, I screened for stocks that investors marked up before their stocks began to rise over the past three months in a market that has headed south in a dramatic fashion. My screen returned 114 stocks when I ran it and included these recent winners:


CAPS Rating 10/28/08

CAPS Rating 1/28/09 (out of 5)

Trailing-13-Week Performance

Wyndham Worldwide (NYSE:WYN)




Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ:NKTR)




Century Aluminum (NASDAQ:CENX)




Source: Motley Fool CAPS screener; trailing performance from Jan. 30 to April 27.

Wyndham Worldwide, in fact, was identified as a stock ready to run in January and has soared so far. But we want to know what stocks we ought to be looking at today. So I went back to the screener and looked for stocks that have just risen to a rating of three stars or better, carry valuations lower than the market's average, and haven't moved up in price over the past month by more than 10%.

Of the 41 the screen returned, here are three that still have attractive prices and that investors think are ready to run today:


CAPS Rating 1/27/09

CAPS Rating 4/27/09

Trailing-4-Week Performance

P/E Ratio

Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN)





Hatteras Financial (NYSE:HTS)










Source: Motley Fool CAPS screener; price return from April 3 to April 27.

Though the results you get may be different, since the data is dynamically updated in real time, you can run your own version of this screen. But let's look at why investors might think these companies will go on to beat the market.

Vail Resorts
With capital projects completed and real estate on new luxury resorts sold out, Vail Resorts didn't take a powder with this past quarter's results. But CAPS All-Star TSIF isn't too sure Vail can avoid a downhill course once the seasonally slow summer months arrive. 

Vail resorts is a cyclical stock at best, with the bulk of earnings announced in the lagging summer quarter. The price per share is usually lowest in July. I really don't know what this mountain wonder will do going into this summer under such a negative outlook. Cash on hand is half of what it was a year ago. [Weathered] well on paper, but losing quarters the last two quarters sets things up to look pretty dismal. I suspect the next year will not be as pretty as their real estate and I believe it is down a steep hill from here with [slaloms] mixed in. Jump!

Hatteras Financial
A REIT created for the express purpose of investing in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages, Hatteras Financial is attracting investors such as CAPS member normniner, who enjoys the "big dividend yield" that comes from investing in government-insured securities.

As a pure-play system-integration consultancy that serves private- and government-sector clients, CIBER may benefit from the return to the U.S. of jobs that had previously been outsourced. Sallie Mae (NYSE:SLM), for example, is repatriating 2,000 jobs from India, Mexico, and the Philippines. The difficult economic environment may still make many companies want to do certain jobs in house. CAPS member perfectblues thinks that CIBER's low valuation may offset some of the negative factors surrounding the industry: "May not be your best long term play, but right now it is looking cheap."

Three for free
It pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made -- all from a stock's CAPS page. Head over to the completely free CAPS service, and let us hear what you have to say about these or any other stocks that you think are starting to rev their engines.

Vail Resorts is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.