In my weekly Fool column "Get Ready for the Fall," I run's 52-week highs list through the "wisdom of crowds" meter we call Motley Fool CAPS. The result: a list of stocks that have flown so high, investors are starting to get nervous about that whole "gravity" thing. But while many stocks will indeed plunge back to Earth, some seem immune to gravity, steadily riding a rising megatrend to ever-greater heights.

Today, we'll move beyond stocks that have hit 52-week highs, and identify companies now surpassing five solid years of outperformance. Which of these will thrash the market averages for another half-decade? Here are this week's leading contenders:


Recent Price

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Bull Factor

Atheros Communications (NASDAQ:ATHR)




Express Scripts








Lear Corp (NYSE:LEA)








Companies are selected from the "New 5-Year Highs" list published on MSN Money on Friday. CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

As bad a year as 2009 was for investors, many stocks still managed to turn out winners in the end. As the markets get warmed up for 2010, the five companies named above are already well on their way to repeating the feat. Which of the five has the best chance of making you the most money this year?

The votes are in, and the verdict is clear:

Atheros Communications
As markets still sat mired in malaise last May, CAPS All-Star NEALWF noticed something interesting. As bad as the economy looked, Atheros was: "still running a postive cash flow and in the black in these hard times with a solid cash position developing a very innovative product. I think they will outperform during the next couple years. wireless will be the norm for everything."

It didn't take long for other Fools to begin nodding in agreement. Wrote hutch113 in June: "Their chips or licensed technologies are going to be in half the population's pockets within ten years."

More recently, gspaxis declared: "wireless is the wave of the future, and here is a value investment not for the thing, but the thing inside the thing ..."

Things that make you go: "Huh"?
The "thing inside the thing?" What does that even mean?

Well, I'll tell ya: Working for original equipment manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Sony, and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Atheros makes the electronic guts for a whole range of wireless thingamajigs. Wireless chipsets that help desktops talk to laptops, laptops jive with mobile devices, and networking hubs that let all these devices gab together. Basically, its wireless chipsets are the opposite of (and antidote to) the bundles of computer wires we've all be complaining about for years.

So that's what Atheros does. Now let's look at what it costs. If you've ever thought to yourself: "Gee, I'd love to own Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) or Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), but I'm not sure I want to pay a 50 P/E for the privilege" -- then Atheros probably isn't for you. In fact, priced at nearly 90 times earnings, the stock looks vastly overpriced relative to some of the bigger names in semiconducting.

Sure, P/Es aren't everything, and it's true that from a free-cash-flow perspective, Atheros doesn't look quite as expensive. With minimal capital requirements, Atheros gets to hold onto a lot of its cash flow rather than paying it out to keep the business running, and free cash flow for the past 12 months ran to nearly $92 million.

Foolish takeaway
But the way I see it, that's still not much of a bargain on a $2.3 billion stock. For Atheros to continue posting the kinds of gains in 2010 as it reaped in 2009, it will need to exceed the 19% annual growth pace that most analysts expect out of it. This is, however, a pretty big if. Growth amounting to 19% doesn't come gratis, and if Atheros falls short even by a little bit, I fear investors are going to feel some pain.

My advice: If you've enjoyed the stock's 150% run-up over the past 52 weeks (as have many members of Motley Fool Hidden Gems, who took our advice and bought the stock when things looked bleakest), then now might be a good time to take some profits off the table, and look around for an even better bargain.

(But hey, feel free to disagree -- as you've read above, most everyone else already does. Here. I'll even give you a soapbox to stand on. Shout away.)

Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Atheros Communications is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick and a Fool portfolio holding. Motley Fool Options recommends buy calls on Intel.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 1,535 out of more than 145,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.