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. 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 nearly 5,400 stocks -- has earned its points by seeking out the businesses it thinks will outperform the market. Below, we'll take a look at some of the top stocks in the CAPS universe that members are talking about and how you think they'll do.

Stock

CAPS Rating (5 Stars Max)

No. of Calls

% Outperform Calls

3M (NYSE:MMM)

*****

3,770

96%

Ambac Financial (NYSE:ABK)

*

1,155

64%

American Capital (NASDAQ:ACAS)

***

1,896

95%

Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)

*****

2,883

98%

Dendreon (NASDAQ:DNDN)

**

1,142

81%

A tall drink of water
Many still hope that nuclear power is a way to wean us off foreign fossil fuels. While critics are wary of the hazards posed by nuclear power, they might not realize the secret that weapon facility operators have at their disposal: duct tape!

Yes, 3M has come out with a product specifically designed for use in nuclear power plants that's able to withstand temperatures as high as 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Is the molten reactor core in danger of melting through the containment building? No problem: A little bit of nuclear-class duct tape will hold it together until repairs can be made.

OK, that's a bit silly, but 3M remains a leading technology company that isn't letting a little thing like the special needs of a nuclear power plant stand in the way of developing innovative solutions. Research and development spending over the past year is still 5.5% of revenues -- basically the same portion for the past few years. So even though profits tumbled 37% for the fourth quarter and sales are expected to take another 15% to 18% hit in the first quarter, 3M also expects that that will be the worst of it, saying full-year revenue should fall only 5% to 9% from the year before.

With some confidence that the year will get better, 3M is considering taking market share from weaker rivals. It was enough for the diversified conglomerate to be able to raise its dividend at a time when everyone else seemed to be cutting theirs. General Electric (NYSE:GE), for example, might have to alter its dividend, much like Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) had to break its 97-year record of never cutting its payout.

But because the company is diversified, many investors are hoping 3M will be able to profit more than most in a recession. CAPS member TSIF finds a price around $50 a share too tempting to pass up:

Diversified, world wide company with products that are always needed, and while purchases might be deferred, will not be fully halted.... Part of my bottom fishing expedition of high quality companies that are on sale due to weak, but clearly in line earnings reports.

Similarly, hadreedy likes the company's consistent strength, despite some short-term issues:

Love the Dividend; Co. buying back its own stock (although recently stalled, to keep cash in this downturn); Not going away, just at a 52 week low and a chance to buy in.

The company's hoard of cash and short-term investments totaling more than $2.2 billion protects the dividend for the time being and serves as a nice downside cushion.

Gather 'round
The CAPS community is like trying to sip from a fire hose. With so many good opinions about today's top companies, why not grab a pointy paper cup from the dispenser and join us at the Motley Fool CAPS water cooler? Your input can help guide other investors to stocks with bright prospects. 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.

Sign up today for the completely free service and let's hear what you have to say about the great and almost-great companies that interest you.

American Capital is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. 3M is an Inside Value selection. The Motley Fool owns Berkshire Hathaway B shares. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.