BOSTON (

TheStreet

) --

Stocks

soared in 2009 as the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to almost zero, the Treasury recapitalized U.S.

banks

and legislators approved unprecedented stimuli.

Low-priced

stocks

, small-caps and distressed companies were among the year's top performers. The

Russell 2000

, a small-company barometer, has surged 80% from its March 9 bottom. The mega-cap

Dow Jones Industrial Average

has climbed 59%.

During the spring and summer, easy money was made in financial stocks. After the collapse of

Lehman Brothers

and the sales of

Bear Stearns

and

Merrill Lynch

, the so-called bulge bracket was decimated. The remaining players benefited not only from reduced competition in the advisory and trading businesses, but nearly free money from the Fed. Investors with even marginal insight into the shaken-up industry reaped returns.

Here's a look at some of this year's big trends in stock investing, and what investors should expect in 2010:

Goldman leads banks

: During the first three quarters,

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

racked up $13.57 of per-share profit and boosted its net margin from 6% to 23%. Despite accusations from Main Street and Washington, Goldman fulfilled its primary obligation: to reward shareholders. Its stock has returned 94% in 2009.

Competitors

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

and

Morgan Stanley

(MS) - Get Report

rallied 32% and 83%, respectively. Shares of

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

rose 9%, while those of

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Report

fell 9%. Industry laggard

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

endured a 49% drop in its stock price.

Tech stocks rebound

: The

Nasdaq

surged 77% from the market bottom as shares of

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

TST Recommends

and

Amazon

(AMZN) - Get Report

doubled. Chipmaker stocks recently ran as investors sought riskier growth opportunities, propelling the

iShares S&P North America Semiconductor Index

up 20% since November.

A flight to quality

: The blue-chip Dow, which had previously lagged the other two major indices, outperformed over the past three months.

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

and

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

led the average, gaining at least 19% each and outpacing the index's 8% advance.

Investors have been loading up on dividend-paying stocks, such as utilities. The

Dow Jones Utility Average

has climbed 11% since November.

A mixed outlook for 2010

: In 2009, investors struggled to make sense of a bull market that persisted despite spotty earnings and falling revenue at many companies. Investment research firm

TrimTabs

estimates that U.S. investors pulled $32 billion out of equity mutual funds and poured $370 billion into bond funds this year. Fear caused these investors to miss the 26% jump in the

S&P 500 Index

.

Opinion remains varied, but many analysts and economists expect 2010 to be a tough year.

Big gains from big names

: Large companies that cut costs and expanded in emerging market will use operating leverage to magnify their bottom lines next year. Companies in slow-growth industries will be rebranded as momentum names.

Kimberly-Clark

(KMB) - Get Report

is among companies to watch next year. The household products maker has trimmed its expenses, and its stock remains undervalued despite its 22% gain this year.

Bargains in small- and mid-caps

: There are still deals to be had among well-managed small companies in growth industries. Our quantitative model has found some strong micro-caps in health care, including

RehabCare Group

(RHB)

,

Techne

(TECH) - Get Report

and

Transcend Services

(TRCR)

. We also expect outsourcing firms, such as

Hewitt Associates

(HEW)

and

Sykes

(SYKE) - Get Report

, to outperform.

-- Reported by Jake Lynch in Boston.