Whether it's the corporate lunchroom, your cubicle, or the local watering hole after work, there are regular places we gather to discuss news, sports or -- if you're like us -- stocks. Here at Motley Fool CAPS, we gather around the virtual water cooler daily to rate stocks and delve into their merits as investments.

Our 125,000-strong CAPS community -- where members give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to some 5,400 stocks -- has earned its points by seeking out the businesses it thinks will outperform the market. Let’s take a look at some of the top stocks in the CAPS universe that you're talking about the most and whether you think they'll continue their winning ways.


CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

No. of Calls

Outperform Calls

American Express (NYSE:AXP)




Diana Shipping (NYSE:DSX)




Goldcorp (NYSE:GG)




Mosaic (NYSE:MOS)




Target (NYSE:TGT)




A tall drink of water
Last summer, the Federal Trade Commission mugged specialty finance shop CompuCredit by suggesting it was not being aboveboard with its disclosures, and publicizing that it engaged in behavioral modeling. That's the practice of scrutinizing a consumer's shopping patterns and making value judgments about them. Although there was a lot of outrage when it was revealed -- who are they to judge us by where we spend our money? -- it's actually a fairly widespread industry practice, used by Visa (NYSE:V), MasterCard (NYSE:MA), credit unions, and virtually anyone who extends credit.

In fact, American Express got caught in a little public relations snafu a few weeks ago when it sent its cardholders a letter saying their credit limits were being reduced because of where they shopped, saying other people who shopped at those same stores had poor payment histories. When the story hit the media, American Express quickly backpedaled. Although AmEx officials maintain credit decisions were not based solely on consumer shopping decisions, it was discontinuing the practice nonetheless.

It does sound creepy, like Big Brother watching over you, but it makes sense from a business perspective, AmEx's protestations notwithstanding. It's smart to rein in credit limits because it was the overly generous use of credit that helped pave the way for the recession in the first place. Getting deeper in debt now is not going to get us out of the jam we're in.

According to Fitch Ratings, the amount of credit card debt delinquent at least 60 days reached 3.75% in December, surpassing the previous high of 3.73% set more than a decade ago. Indeed, American Express said fourth-quarter operating profits plunged 72% to $238 million because charge-offs have risen.

But it also seems that consumers are taking matters into their own hands and not waiting for American Express or other credit card companies to roll back credit limits. The Federal Reserve reported that consumer borrowing dropped at an annual rate of 3.1% in December, the third straight month that such borrowing fell. More importantly, the $6.6 billion drop nearly doubled the forecast that analysts made, and it followed on the heels of an $11 billion drop in November, the biggest monthly fall-off on record.

The area suffering the biggest percentage decline included credit card debt, which fell 7.8% in December. It was also the first time since the recession of 1990-1991 that consumer spending fell in both the third and fourth quarters of a single year.

While the cutback in consumer spending may be worrisome for credit card companies, some investors, like CAPS member rainman70, finds going back to American Express' old pay-as-you-go system an attractive option that just might help it through the crisis:

[American Express] has a strong brand, good management team, and solid strategy. Consumer spending may be down, but I think a more conservative America will shift its spending habits from credit cards to the [American Expresses’] pay-as-you-go charge card. I see this as an inflation-resistant stock, as well. I think that as prices go up, so will the amounts consumers charge (in roughly the same magnitude... especially when inflation is driven by an increase in the money supply). Put this together with [American Expresses’] strong brand and history of earnings, and I’m bullish on this stock. A stock market recovery may be long in the making, but I think [American Express] will lead the pack.

Gather 'round
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American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. CompuCredit is a Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of American Express. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool’s disclosure policy sips lemonade from a jelly jar.