As we approach the final stretch of January, U.S. markets are looking strong--so far, the S&P 500 is up 2.5%, enough to make the past four weeks the second-best inaugural month for the markets in a decade. The only other year-to-date rally that kicked off harder was 2013, a year that ended up with a 29.6% finish for the S&P.

In short, the market stats show us in good company in 2017.

But, much like in 2013, stock picking still matters in this market. There's no more salient example of that than the fact that 36% of S&P components are actually down since the start of January, despite the strength of the price action. So, to harness the momentum that's in this market, we're turning to a fresh set of "Rocket Stocks" that look ready for blastoff in the weeks ahead ...

In case you're not familiar, Rocket Stocks are our list of companies with short-term gain catalysts and longer-term growth potential. To find them, I run a weekly quantitative screen that seeks out stocks with a combination of analyst upgrades and positive earnings surprises to identify rising analyst expectations, a bullish signal for stocks in any market. After all, where analysts' expectations are increasing, institutional cash often follows. In the last 384 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record-breaking run by 76.7%.

So, without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.

Alibaba Group Holding

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If the big market averages are having a great start to 2017, shares of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) - Get Report is having a momentous one. This $250 billion internet retailer is up more than 16% since the calendar flipped to January, leaving the rest of the market in its dust. And it doesn't look like Alibaba's momentum is running out as we round the corner to February.

Alibaba is the biggest e-tailer on the planet based on gross merchandise volume. The company owns the most popular online marketplaces in China, including namesake Alibaba, web marketplace Tmall, consumer-to-consumer sales site Taobao, and daily deals site Juhuasuan. Additionally, Alibaba also operates a payment network and a collection of cloud computing products.

Alibaba benefits from a virtuous cycle. With more than 443 million active buyers, the firm's marketplaces attract sellers who want a big audience to market to. Likewise, buyers keep coming back because of Alibaba's selection of merchandise. Mobile customers made up 79% of Alibaba's consolidated gross merchandise volume in the most recent full year, an indication that the firm continues to successfully court the highest-growth customers at this stage. With rising analyst sentiment in Alibaba this week, we're betting on shares.

International Business Machines

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Big Blue is handing investors market-beating returns in 2017. Year-to-date, International Business Machines (IBM) - Get Report is already nearly 7% higher than it ended 2016, besting the averages this year by a factor of three. As more attention continues to move toward IT infrastructure and Big Data, IBM looks well-positioned to benefit.

IBM tips the scales as one of the largest enterprise IT firms on the planet, providing companies, institutions, and government agencies with software, hardware, and services to keep their operations running smoothly. Like other large IT firms, services have become an increasingly important piece of the revenue puzzle--and IBM's $119 billion services backlog ensures that the register will continue to spin for the foreseeable future. While competition is stiff in cloud services, where IBM competes with its SoftLayer product, there's likely enough of a growth opportunity for all players to expand materially from here, particularly if IBM can leverage its immense customer Rolodex and transition those customers over to cloud solutions.

More legacy products, like mainframes and servers, continue to be a critical piece of IBM's earnings, subsidizing the higher-growth initiatives to some extent. The sheer scale of the legacy businesses does provide a built-in advantage in IBM's ability to grow its cloud and services offerings--and we're seeing that reflected in IBM's share price this winter.

Carnival Corp.

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Cruise operator Carnival Corp. (CCL) - Get Reportis enjoying a positive surge this winter. In the past six months, Carnival's share price has rallied more than 20%, pushed hard by macro tailwinds that should continue to play out in 2017. That price trajectory puts Carnival on track to recapture all-time highs in the weeks ahead.

Carnival is the largest cruise ship operator in the world. The firm operates more than 100 ships under the Carnival, Holland America, Princess and Cunard lines, among others. By operating different niche lines for different types of customers, the firm can cast a wide net that attracts more than 10 million vacationers each year. There are two major tailwinds in play in Carnival right now: low energy prices, and shifting demographics. While energy has been rebounding since the beginning of last year, a barrel of oil today still costs just half of what it cost back in mid-2014. That means it's still dramatically less expensive to operate a diesel-fired megaship today than it was two years ago, contributing to some very attractive margins for the industry.

Demographics, meanwhile, are a longer-term tailwind that's only getting more attractive. As more cruise-hungry baby boomers begin hitting retirement age, demand for berths is projected to continue rising materially. That's not just true here at home--the firm is also investing heavily in cruise-hungry consumers globally, in regions such as Asia Pacific, where growing middle class populations are eager to book cruise vacations. Carnival's momentum isn't showing any signs of fading in the near-term.

Stanley Black & Decker Inc.

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Stanley Black & Decker Inc. (SWK) - Get Reportis another recent outperformer. This $19 billion tool company has rallied almost 10% so far in 2017, quadrupling the performance of the S&P 500 to kick off the calendar year. A lot of Stanley's recent outperformance has to do with housing--as homeowners opt to invest in improvements, they're purchasing more tools from Stanley Black & Decker's collection of brands.

Stanley owns some of the best-known tool brands on the market today. Besides the Stanley and Black & Decker labels, the firm also owns brands like DeWalt, Porter-Cable, Mac Tools and Bostitch. That huge ownership of the tool aisle at the big box home improvement stores such as Home Depot (HD) - Get Report come with some distinct pricing and margin advantages. Likewise, tools tend to be very sticky from a consumer sales standpoint. For instance, because batteries are generally brand and even product line specific, buyers generally make big investments in power tool lines when they make a purchase, hiking switching costs and driving recurring sales.

Earlier this month, Stanley announced that it was purchasing the renowned Craftsman tool brand from dying Sears Holdings (SHLD) for $775 million in cash. Sears will keep the rights to develop and sell Craftsman tools in Sears' own retail channels--but Stanley Black & Decker will own the brand everywhere else. That, alongside other big acquisitions in recent months, will help Stanley move the growth needle on the consumer side of its business in 2017.

D.R. Horton

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Rounding out our list of Rocket Stocks today is another housing-focused stock: $11.4 billion homebuilder D.R. Horton (DHI) - Get Report.

D.R. Horton is the largest homebuilder in the U.S., with business in 26 states. Approximately 90% of the firm's revenue comes from single-family detached homes--D.R. Horton closed on 41,652 homes during 2016, generating more than $12.6 billion in revenues. While the firm focused primarily on low- to midprice homebuyers just a few years ago, D.R. Horton has been moving upmarket in an effort to sell more to move-up and luxury buyers. As a result, nearly a third of the firm's homes sold for $300,000 or more last year, thanks in part to niche brands like Emerald homes, which was launched in 2013 and now accounts for 4% of closed homes but 9% of home sales revenue.

Land management is incredibly important for a homebuilder, and D.R. Horton has been improving its ability to turn over lots held on its balance sheet. While the firm had more than 14,000 inactive lots on the books back in 2014, it's down to just 6,300 inactive lots as of the end of 2016. That improvement directly impacts the firm's ability to generate returns on investment.

The uptrend in housing prices nationwide is an

unmistakable tailwind at D.R. Horton right now

. Many major markets hit new all-time price highs in housing last year, and the outlook is expected to remain rosy in 2017, despite the possible pressures from rising interest rates. With rising analyst sentiment in shares of D.R. Horton of late, we're betting on this stock to outperform.

At the time of publication, author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.