In my weekly Fool column "Get Ready for the Fall," I run Nasdaq.com'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:

Companies

Recent Price

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Bull Factor

Bridgford Foods (NASDAQ:BRID)

$12.26

Unrated (for now)

100%

Maximus (NYSE:MMS)

$53.99

*****

93%

Chattem

$93.32

***

90%

Open Text

$46.51

**

88%

American Italian Pasta

$38.34

**

76%

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

Hot stocks leave investors cold
The last few weeks have been rather, shall we say, "unpleasant" for investors in general. And yet, some stocks are still churning higher, buoyed by a spate of boffo earnings reports. The five stocks named above, for example, all sit atop new five-year highs. But which of the five has the best chance of advancing further?

CAPS members clearly prefer Reston, Va.-based consulting firm Maximus. (And if you've seen their earnings report, you know why.) Still, I'm going to let curiosity get the better of me this week. You see, as CAPS heads into its fourth year as a community, there just aren't all that many stocks we cover that lack sufficient investor interest to merit at least some kind of star rating ...

In this, Bridgford Foods is something of an exception. According to CAPS: "There are no Wall Street tracker picks for BRID." No analysts. No long-term earnings estimates. Nuthin'.

Indeed, only five individual investors follow the stock on CAPS, and not a one of 'em has said a word as to why they like it. The company's an unknown quantity. A blank slate.

But not for long.

One day changes everything
There's something intriguing about a stock like Bridgford, you see. I mean ... raise your hand if you had ever heard of Stratasys before last month. Anyone? Anyone?

But I'll bet you heard a whole lot about it when Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) picked Stratasys out of the air, anointed it HP's preferred provider of 3-D printing systems, promised to help the company grow its sales 500% in five years, and sent the stock soaring 40% in a day. That's the kind of pleasant surprise that can come upon you out of the blue when you buy an unknown, unwatched company like Bridgford.

Like Stratasys, the company already has credibility in business circles -- a credible partner in the form of retail powerhouse Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT). And also like Stratasys, Bridgford is small enough a shop that the signing of even one or two more contracts could change the company's fortunes entirely (and for the better).

Ink a distribution deal with Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and -- kaboom! -- the stock could skyrocket. Sell yourself to Kraft (NYSE:KFT) or ConAgra (NYSE:CAG) and -- kapowie! -- the buyout premium alone could make investors rich. There's just no telling what could catalyze this stock to breakout growth.

The more things stay the same ... the more that's fine with me
But the really great thing about a stock like Bridgford is that you don't even need meganews to make a decent profit. Already, right now, the company's doing just fine on its own:

  • Boasting $13.9 million in cash on its balance sheet, and no debt.
  • Earning $6.8 million in 2009 (a 5.5% net margin, not much worse than the 6.2% put up by Kraft and ConAgra).
  • And generating even more free cash flow than that -- $8.1 million in 2009.

Foolish takeaway
Honestly, the stock looks like a heads-you-win, tails-you-don't lose proposition to me. It's a small enough company that one bit of good news could send the stock significantly higher. Yet if nothing material happens, as a business, Bridgford still has its rock solid balance sheet, and solid, high-quality earnings to fall back on.

Long story short -- even though this stock has tripled in value over the last 52 weeks, I see no reason to doubt that its best days still lie ahead of it.

That said, you are free to disagree. Love Bridgford or hate it, I'd just like to see anyone say anything about the stocks on CAPS. If ever a company deserved to have a star rating of some sort, this is that company -- take a look, and tell us what you think about it.

Motley Fool CAPS: It's fun, it's free, and it just might make you famous.

Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Stratasys and Open Text are Rule Breakers recommendations. Costco is a Stock Advisor selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended a write puts position on Open Text. The Fool owns shares of Costco.

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. 644 out of more than 145,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.