There are plenty of strategies for picking stock winners: stocks with a low price-to-earnings ratio, companies that are selling at a discount to future cash flows, and more. At the small-cap stock-picking service Motley Fool Hidden Gems, the analysts are beating the market by 22 percentage points by finding undervalued stocks that the market and investors have ignored.

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

Using the investor-intelligence database of Motley Fool CAPS, I screened for stocks that increased by 20% or more over the past three months and that investors marked up before the run-ups began.

My screen, which returned some 20 stocks when I ran it, included these recent winners:


CAPS Rating 3/3/08

CAPS Rating 6/3/08

Trailing-13-Week Return

Jones Apparel (NYSE:JNY)




Omnicare (NYSE:OCR)




Helen of Troy (NASDAQ:HELE)




Source: Motley Fool CAPS Screener; price return from June 6 close to Sept. 2 close.

That list tells us which stocks we perhaps should have looked at three months ago, but what we want are the stocks that we ought to be looking at today. So I went back to the screener and looked for stocks that just bumped up to three stars or better, that sport valuations lower than the market's average, and whose price hasn't moved up over the past month by more than 10%.

Here are three stocks out of the 50 the screen returned that are still attractively priced but that investors think are ready to run today!


CAPS Rating 06/03/08

CAPS Rating 09/03/08

Trailing 4-Week Return

P/E Ratio






Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG)





Qwest Communications (NYSE:Q)





Source: Motley Fool CAPS Screener; price return from Aug. 8 close to Sept. 2 close.

Let's take a look at why investors might think some of these companies will beat the market.

If there's one word that stands out when it comes to regional bank BB&T, it's "conservative." Investors have homed in on the Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation as a bank that people can trust because it has eschewed the fashions and trends that have imperiled many of its rivals. Add in a generous dividend, and CAPS member JoeHar considers it a winner.

I have used [BB&T] for many years, and they are a conservative fundamentally sound bank. If [this one goes] down we are all cooked! They are paying a good dividend right now, and have not lost billions that they will have to repay. I wish I had bought more! Buy on [fundamentals, and don't] wait [for] someone to do [your] thinking for you.

Harley-Davidson should be a good buy, and with gas prices remaining elevated, the appeal of a motorcycle should be strong. Yet as a Harley rider, I sometimes look at the designs and wonder whether the bikes will strike a chord. The new Cross Bones, for example, is a throwback to an older-style bike, but has it gone too retro? The decision to buy sports-bike maker MV Augusta also has some diehard enthusiasts wondering what direction the company is taking.

Not everyone is skeptical, though. CAPS member HOGridin looks at the new lineup of bikes as a challenge being issued to other bike manufacturers.

$4 gas has Sportsters, Buells (and … [upcoming] models from the MG [Augusta] & Cagiva acquisition) … selling faster than [Harley] can make them. Problems like parts availability from key suppliers have [been] a hiccup on the Buell Blast just as rags like Rider Mag publish rave reviews on the model. When this all gets sorted out, and it will, sales will respond.

Qwest Communications
Maybe it's the pending FCC decision to stop requiring the phone companies, such as Qwest, from annually filing service-quality and customer-satisfaction data that has consumer groups upset. Or could they be miffed about Qwest's recent decision to do away with its email help system? For CAPS member PrincetonAl, cost containment for the carrier is of uppermost concern.

I think in the short-term, they get their "go to market" ship righted, especially in the business segment, by more properly aligning spending and profitability.

The consumer segment will continue to have challenges, investments to provide fiber to the home isn't possible with their debt, communications is competitive, price continues to drop, etc. [T]his is a tough business for the long-haul.

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 your thoughts on these or any other stocks that you think are starting to rev their engines.

BB&T is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Omnicare is an Inside Value 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.