"'Don't catch a falling knife' ... The idea of buying a former superstar stock at a discount price certainly has its attractions, but you've got to make sure you catch the haft -- not the blade."

So runs the thesis of my recurring Fool column "Get Ready for the Bounce," in which we search among the wreckage of Mr. Market's overturned cutlery drawer, hoping to find future winners in a pile of 52-week losers. But do we really need to sit around for a whole year, waiting for a potential bouncer?

I say nay. Sometimes, stocks fall far in far less time than a year -- and like a superball dropped from the balcony, the harder they fall, the higher they bounce. Today, we're going to look at a few equities that've suffered dramatic drops over the past week. With a little help from the 160,000 members of Motley Fool CAPS, we hope to find an opportunity or two for you:


How Far From 52-Week High?

Recent Price

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Noble Corp. (NYSE: NE)




Mosaic (NYSE: MOS)




DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS)








Palm (Nasdaq: PALM)




Companies are selected by screening on finviz.com for abrupt 5% or greater price drops over the past week. 52-week high and recent price data provided by finviz.com. CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

Five super falls -- one superball
Last week was a rough one for investors in these five companies -- but the reasons for their troubles weren't always clear. On the one hand, Palm self-destructed right on schedule when it reported Q3 earnings Thursday. Likewise, LDK Solar suffered the expected consequences of SunPower's downbeat Q4 news

In contrast, Mosaic shares tumbled despite news of depleted industrywide potash inventories that should have been expected to help the company. And DryShips' decline appears to have been sparked by no more than a series of articles on TheStreet.com last week, rehashing the well-known problem of Somali piracy.

But what about this week's top-rated stock: Noble Corp.? So far as I can tell, it seems to have suffered collateral damage from a downgrade of rival driller Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO), and a similarly bleak prognosis for natural gas prices.

While that may not seem "fair" to shareholders who already own the stock, it does have the happy effect of creating a lower entry price for investors who'd like to own Noble in the future.

The bull case for Noble Corp.
CAPS member LoneWolf888 calls Noble: "A fantastic 5 star company ..Low p/e, excellent balance sheet, superb management..A recently declared cash distribution and buyback program …Very little downside risk at this price."

SoNovel agrees that Noble is "[o]ne of the best value picks going. Noble sports an enviable balance sheet and just capped a solid 2009 with better than expected Q4 results ... I don't see much, if any, downside here. Don't look for [Noble] to rocket up quickly, but you can feel secure with it as a major component of any well-diversified portfolio."

And some of the very best investors we track on CAPS agree. CAPS All-Star HP2006, for example, calls Noble Corp. an "[e]xcellent company, strong balance sheet, strong cash flows and attractive valuation. Long term play."

Drilling for discounts
You don't have to look very hard to see what these investors like about Noble. The company sports a drool-inducing P/E ratio of just 6.4 times earnings, and even if those earnings are expected to slump a bit in the coming year, the forward P/E sits at just 7.5. Relative to annualized expectations of 13% profit growth for the next five years, those numbers almost scream "buy me!"

But should you? Buy Noble Corp., that is?

Noble Corp. bears will point out that the company doesn't generate free cash flow at quite the levels it reports as "net profit" under GAAP. In fact, the company's $825 million in trailing free cash flow misses the net income mark by more than 50% -- but that's still good enough to earn the company a price-to-free cash flow ratio of less than 13. The company also boasts a balance sheet with enough cash to pay off nearly all of its long-term debt at a time of its choosing. Why, Noble Corp. even pays investors a small dividend (1.2%.)

Foolish takeaway
Is Noble Corp. the hands-down, far-and-away best bargain in the oil patch? No. (That honor, as I've said before, belongs to National Oilwell Varco (NYSE: NOV) -- and I'm sticking to my story.) But to my Foolish eye, Noble Corp. does offer investors a strong company at a price that's more than fair. The way I see it, that should be more than enough to make this particular superball bounce.

But hey, feel free to disagree. If you have a different view of Noble Corp.'s prospects for profit, click over to Motley Fool CAPS today, and sound off.

National Oilwell Varco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find Rich on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 582 out of more than 160,000 members. The Fool has a disclosure policy.