BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Construction and engineering, typically a boom-and-bust industry, has attracted big investor money this year as worldwide demand for new infrastructure and energy projects propel earnings.

Shares of companies in the construction and engineering (C&E) sector, such as Fluor ( FLR) and Jacobs Engineering ( JEC), have jumped an average of 13% this year versus 5.4% for the S&P 500 Index. That's the fifth-best-performing industry among more than 100 tracked by Standard & Poor's. C&E, a sub-industry of the industrials sector, is up 50% over the past 12 months.

Those returns are indicative of the big flow of funds going into developed-equities markets in the U.S., Japan and Europe, and out of emerging markets over the past few weeks. Fund-flows tracking firm EPFR Global recently said $47 billion flowed into developed markets, and the second week of February had the biggest inflows into those markets in over 30 months.

C&E includes multinational civil-engineering companies and large-scale contractors, but excludes homebuilders. These firms are seen benefiting from new power generation projects or improvements to existing ones, including coal-fired plants, oil & gas, and nuclear power plants as those firms have increased their capital spending budgets in the face of rising oil prices.

Another driver should be government work. President Obama has a $50 billion infrastructure plan to rebuild roads, railways and airport runways, and separately, last year Congress approved $45 billion of highway construction funds, a 10% increase from 2010.

Additionally, Congress is considering a new $450 billion transportation bill.

Here are five of the industry's biggest companies that should benefit from these growth trends:

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Fluor ( FLR) is one of the world's largest engineering, procurement and construction companies, with a market value of $13 billion and $21 billion in annual revenue. It gets about 72% of its revenue from outside the U.S.

Standard & Poor's gives it a "buy" rating with four out of five stars. The research firm says: "Our 'buy' recommendation is based on our valuation models, along with our view of (Fluor's) favorable long-term prospects, especially in the Americas and Asia-Pacific, and its strong balance sheet. Despite customer uncertainty, we see stronger bookings as customers gradually resume long-term capital investment plans."

For fiscal 2010, analysts' consensus estimate is that it will earn $2.08 per share and that that will grow by 59% to $3.31 for fiscal 2011.

S&P's survey of analysts' opinions found nine "buy" ratings, six "buy/holds," nine "holds" and one "weak/hold."

Fluor's shares have risen 14% this year and 63% in the past 12 months.

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KBR Corp. ( KBR) is a global engineering and construction contractor focused on energy plants, government projects and mining-infrastructure construction.

It also has been the sole provider of food services, utilities, laundry and other logistics support for U.S. troops in Iraq and other international hot spots.

A Thomson Reuters' analysts survey found five "strong buy," eight "buy" and five "hold" ratings on its shares. Those same analysts have a mean price target of $36.80 on its shares, a 7% premium to the current price.

KBR shares are up 15% this year and 78% over the past year. The company has a $5.3 billion market value.

KBR's fundamentals are strong as the stock has a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 16.9, versus the 17.7 average for the industry group, and it has little long-term debt on its balance sheet.

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Foster Wheeler ( FWLT) is a Switzerland-based global engineering, construction, and project management contractor and power equipment supplier with a $4.9 billion market value.

Standard & Poor's, which has the shares rated "hold," says "our 'hold' opinion is based mainly on our view of still-challenging global markets, which should continue to affect the timing of new orders booked in both (business) segments, as well as our valuation metrics, which indicate that the shares are fairly valued. However, new awards should benefit long-term growth."

For fiscal 2010, analysts estimate that the company will earn $1.89 per share and that that will grow 11% to $2.09 in fiscal 2011.

S&P's poll of analysts' opinions found six "buy" ratings, seven "buy/hold" and four "hold" ratings.

Foster Wheeler's shares have risen 15% this year and 44% over the past year.

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Aecom Technology ( ACM), of Los Angeles, is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, civic facilities, environmental, energy, water and government. It has about 45,000 employees worldwide.

Aecom, whose shares have gained 7% this year, have a market value of $3.4 billion.

The company has a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 11.6, by far the lowest among industry peers.

Two weeks ago it was awarded a $22 million contract from the Singapore Land Transport Authority. Its annual revenue is $6.5 billion.

Analysts give its shares seven "strong buy" ratings, five "buys" and three "holds," according to Thomson Reuters.

Columbine Capital projects that Aecom will perform in line with the market over the next 12 months and recommends that investors maintain any existing position, but not add to it.

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Jacobs Engineering ( JEC) provides professional, technical and construction services. Its principal services comprise various aspects of engineering and construction, operations and maintenance, as well as scientific and specialty consulting services.

Jacobs has a good reputation for complex project planning, design and execution, and is one of the largest companies in the world in its field with $11 billion in annual revenue. The U.S. government is its biggest customer.

Standard & Poor's gives the company its highest rating: a five-star "strong buy" recommendation. "We expect orders to gradually pick up later in the fiscal year, especially for both upstream oil & gas and refining projects, chemical and power, and certain aerospace & defense, and buildings projects," it says in its research report on Jacobs.

For fiscal 2011, analysts estimate the company will earn $2.60 per share and that will grow by 16%, to $3.01 in 2012.

S&P's summation of other analysts' opinions finds seven "buys," four "buy/holds," nine "holds" and two "weak holds."

Jacobs' shares are up 14% this year and 34% over the past year. The company has a market value of $6.6 billion.

>To see these stocks in action, visit the 5 Construction Stocks portfolio on Stockpickr.

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