BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- To find the best growth companies, says Cabot Money Management's Dennis Wassung, look in growing industries.

Investors have lost money on stocks in the past decade, as the S&P 500 Index fell 23%. The strategy of "buy and hold" -- purchasing shares and keeping them for years in the hopes of consistent price appreciation -- has largely failed.

"By looking at growth themes, you can pick companies that have great growth opportunities in front of them," says Wassung, a portfolio manager. "Rather than owning the S&P 500, following this theme of finding growth winners will benefit you over the long term. Now is your chance at good returns. We're still significantly below the peak of the market, so as we get back to those highs, you have a great opportunity to see growth."

Wassung helps manage aggressive-growth stocks at Cabot Money Management, which itself is focused on growth companies, defined as those that can increase earnings faster than the overall stock market.

"You want to find themes that can persevere through all types of markets," Wassung says. "That's really worked well, even in the last few months after the market peaked in April and has pulled back."

Finding winners is difficult. Fast-growing companies typically appear expensive compared with the broader market. And few pay dividends, which is unappealing to some investors.

Wassung stands behind five stocks that Cabot Money Management owns based on the theme of strong secular growth. Many of the shares have jumped, though Wassung says they're still attractive.

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Acme Packet ( APKT)

Company Profile: Acme Packet provides session border controllers that enable service providers to deliver secure interactive communications.

Closing Price: $37.92 (Sept. 17)

One-Year Stock Performance: 298%

Wassung's Take: "People are using the Internet for different things and will continue to use the Internet for different things, namely interactive communications and applications. To accomplish that, you need the technological infrastructure. Acme Packet is a very critical new component to enable these types of applications. It's a company that has done well as carriers need to be able to handle these new capabilities that people are doing. You're starting to see the earnings leverage. The earnings and revenue growth are real, and the expectations have continued to move higher."

Analyst Consensus: Ten analysts cover Acme Packet, with six of those recommending the stock as a "buy." The four other research firms suggest that investors should hold the shares. No analyst has a "sell" rating.

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Salesforce.com ( CRM)

Company Profile: Salesforce.com provides customer-relationship management services to businesses.

Closing Price: $116.74 (Sept. 17)

One-Year Stock Performance: 100%

Wassung's Take: "Cloud computing, and specifically software-as-a-service (SaaS), helps minimize the investment people need to make in their own enterprise. That's a theme that will continue to have legs. Salesforce.com is the lion in that area. It's another long-term secular trend. They're very small relative to the big software companies, like Oracle ( ORCL) and SAP ( SAP). The whole notion of SaaS is a subscription, rather than buying software up front. That defers the revenue over time. Revenue and earnings tend to lag the adoption of the business, so names like this will trade at higher price-to-earnings ratios. So when it comes to valuing a company like this, you have to look at cash flow."

Analyst Consensus: Of the 35 research firms with coverage of Salesforce.com, 19 say investors should buy shares and another 15 have a "hold" rating. Only one firm has a "sell" rating on Salesforce.com.

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Thoratec ( THOR)

Company Profile: Thoratec is a medical-device maker.

Closing Price: $37.65 (Sept. 17)

One-Year Stock Performance: 24%

Wassung's Take: "I found myself looking into critical cardiac care. Thoratec makes left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), which are essentially an implantable heart pump that assists someone who has heart failure. People waiting for a heart transplant don't have a lot of options while they're on that waiting list, and sadly some of those patients won't get a transplant.

"Thoratec has a fully approved alternative solution that gives heart failure patients a very good quality of life. It's not the easiest industry to understand, but they're the only company with destination therapy (DT) approval, which means patients on the waiting list can use their pumps as a bridge to get them to the transplants. The survival data has been excellent. It could be a permanent solution for people who have major challenges. It's a need that no one else is serving with a market that is rapidly expanding."

Analyst Consensus: Thirteen of 18 analysts who cover Thoratec have a "buy" rating on the stock. Another four analysts say investors should hold the shares, while one analyst has a "sell" rating on the medical-device company.

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Volcano ( VOLC)

Company Profile: Volcano makes intravascular-ultrasound products.

Closing Price: $24.28 (Sept. 17)

One-Year Stock Performance: 48%

Wassung's Take: "Volcano is a play on what I'd call better technology in analyzing cardiac events. Their core technology is intravenous ultrasound and functional measurement. Effectively, when someone has a cardiac event, this company provides an ultrasound in arteries, giving doctors better data to show where the challenges are. The data has proved that you get better outcomes of placing the stent in the right place. Unfortunately, it's a big issue for Americans and for global patients, but this provides better technology than the old standard. This will look expensive on a P/E basis, as it just crossed the profitability mark over the last year. On a sales basis, though, you're looking at a stock at 3.5 times revenue, which is how investors should look at health-care companies in this stage of their life cycle."

Analyst Consensus: Ten research firms follow Volcano, and nearly all of them say investors should buy the stock. One has a "hold" rating.

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CNinsure ( CISG)

Company Profile: CNinsure is an independent insurance intermediary company operating in China.

Closing Price: $22.52 (Sept. 17)

One-Year Stock Performance: 3%

Wassung's Take: "One of the big strategies we've had is looking at the emerging markets, which is where you'll see very good secular growth trends. That means looking for ways to invest in the growth in the growing number of middle-class consumers in these fast-growing economies. The theme we're playing on with CNinsure is that there are more middle-class people in China. A very small percentage of the population had any form of insurance. CNinsure has primarily been on the property and casualty side, but they've added a life-insurance side and other financial-services pieces that tie in. They're bringing insurance products to a fast-growing set of new customers. It is an insurance broker intermediary model, so there's no underwriting risk. They're expanding their footprint, covering more and more provinces in China. They also get good marks in terms of quality of management."

Analyst Consensus: All of the four analysts who follow CNinsure have a "buy" rating on the stock.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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