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 165,000-strong CAPS community -- where members give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to some 5,400 stocks -- seeks businesses it thinks will outperform the market. Below, we take a look at some of the most popular and talked-about stocks in the CAPS universe, and examine whether you think they'll continue their winning ways.

Stock

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

No. of Calls

% Outperform Calls

IBM (NYSE: IBM)

****

3798

89.7%

First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR)

**

3762

81.6%

Toyota (NYSE: TM)

**

3755

89.3%

Of course, just because a lot of investors find these stocks interesting doesn't mean they're an automatic addition to your portfolio. You still need to do more research to find out whether they're interesting because they're set to take off, or because their stocks are ready for a trip to the cellar.

A tall drink of water
When IBM sold its Thinkpad business to Chinese computer maker Lenovo in 2005, it marked a significant turning point for Big Blue, as the company transformed its primary focus from manufacturing hardware to providing software and services. Sure, IBM still makes servers and storage systems -- but it seems to realize that services will be a key component for its own future and its customers'. IBM estimates that half of its profits in 2015 will come from software. It earned more than $13.7 billion over the past 12 months.

Big Blue recently purchased cloud computing software maker Cast Iron Systems, then followed that up by grabbing Sterling Commerce, a company that allows businesses to connect to each others' back-end services. Furthermore, IBM just announced a deal for Web analytics software provider Coremetrics, which helps businesses gain a better understanding of their customer interactions.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN), and others have grabbed the headlines on cloud computing, but IBM has the potential to upend the order of things. With $14 billion in its bank account, it's got the cash to put its stamp on any market it chooses to enter. In addition, its foray into the cloud naturally supports and supplements its hardware, software, and consulting segments.

CAPS member czechmate295 recognizes this fundamental shift under way at IBM, a move he thinks will allow it to outperform in the future: "Because IBM has shifted from a manufacturer of goods (pcs) to global information technology services, at a time when IT services is becoming more and more in demand."

Something to build on
The solar industry has been knocked off-balance in the face of subsidy cuts, inventory oversupply, and an extremely pressured euro. Yet the industry's outlook may not be as bad as it seems.

China's decision to revalue the yuan is helping currencies and markets around the world right now. Spain is rethinking its decision to massively cut subsidies. And, well, there's still a lot of supply in the system. Two out of three ain't bad. But according to at least one analyst, First Solar is sitting pretty to capture the increase in demand the solar industry can expect. Although Europe represents about 70% of industry demand, First Solar is perhaps more insulated from that exposure.

Which sits fine with CAPS member MoneyDocSchloss, who finds the U.S. solar specialist's mid-teen market valuation a reasonable one, considering that others like SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA) go for 1.5 times more.

15 p/e is a SANE multiple for a growth company like this. PEG being 0.6 makes it more tolerable too. With short interest near 25%! and Obama's aim toward alternative energy, how could you NOT want to secure position here?

The pause that refreshes
Speaking of being off-balance: Toyota finds itself losing ground to Ford (NYSE: F), GM, and just about every other car manufacturer these days. Its recent commercials about customer loyalty sound less like a rallying cry for quality, and more like a plea to lure back fleeing customers in the wake of its safety scandals.

For the first time, American auto brands solidly beat foreign competition in a survey of initial quality, while Toyota slid to 21st on the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study list. Yet CAPS member longbowdon thinks the Toyota recall mess is suspect:

If you do the research, the pedals that had the problem were manufactured here in the US. This same pedal has been installed in other US manufactured vehicles as well but you don't see the uproar about those do you? Toyota will get through this and be on top again, but right now is the time to buy while it is on sale!

Gather 'round
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 watercooler? Your input can help guide other investors to stocks with bright prospects for growth. 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 us hear what you have to say about the great and almost-great companies that interest you.

First Solar and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections. Amazon and Ford are Stock Advisor picks.

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 has a disclosure policy.