10 Best-Performing S&P 500 Stocks of 2011

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Ten companies on the benchmark S&P 500 Index have gained as much as 61% this year as the third quarter played host to a tumultuous 2011 for the stock market.

Half of the companies are in the health-care industry, and two are in the aerospace and defense industry.

Companies in the S&P 500 have been battered and bruised because of the still-evolving sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the growing threat of a double-dip recession in the U.S. The dysfunction of the U.S. political system hasn't exactly helped.

The index, which tracks the performance of the 500 largest U.S. stocks and is used as a benchmark for the overall health of the U.S. equities market, is down 6.5% so far this year, with most of the decline occurring in the past two months. So the performance of these 10 companies and their shares is noteworthy because it indicates they may outperform as there's little evidence of a big improvement in global economies.

The following is a snapshot of the 10 top-performing stocks in the S&P 500 this year, ranked by total return. Share prices are as of Sept. 26 and returns as of Sept. 23.

10. Watson Pharmaceutical ( WPI)

Company Profile: Watson is the world's fourth-largest generic pharmaceutical manufacturer and it also operates a branded pharmaceutical division.

2011 Total Return: 37%

Current Share Price: $70.88

S&P analysts have an $80 price target on its shares. It has a market value of $9.5 billion.

The company is expected to get a big boost in November when Pfizer's ( PFE) long-time best-seller Lipitor goes off patent and Watson can begin producing a generic version of it.

S&P projects Watson's revenue will grow 25% in 2011 to $4.5 billion.

Analysts' consensus earnings estimate for this year is $4.45 and that is expected to grow by 28% to $5.70 in fiscal 2012.

Analysts give its shares seven "strong buy" ratings, three "moderate buys," and 10 "holds," according to TheStreet Ratings.

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9. Goodrich ( GR)

Company Profile: Goodrich is one of the world's largest suppliers of aerospace components, systems and services to the commercial and general aviation airplane markets. It also supplies systems and products to the defense and aerospace markets. Many people still remember Goodrich as a tire maker, but it exited that business in 1988.

2011 Total Return: 38%

Current Share Price: $121.51

On Sept. 21, United Technologies ( UTX) announced it reached an agreement to purchase Goodrich for $127.50 per share in cash, for a total enterprise value of $18.4 billion, including the assumption of debt. United Technologies is a manufacturer of high-technology products and services to the global aerospace and building industries.

Analysts give its shares six "strong buy" ratings, two "moderate buys," and 11 "holds" according to TheStreet Ratings.


8. Biogen Idec ( BIIB)

Company Profile: Biogen Idec is a biotechnology company, developing drugs for neurological disorders.

2011 Total Return: 40%

Current Share Price: $95.85

Biogen's core franchise has been in autoimmune disorder drugs, principally Avonex, which was approved by the FDA in 1996 to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Recent approval of a five-year marketing plan for the MS drug Tysabri in Europe and a positive study for Avonex have impressed Biogen's investors. Biogen also has a strong pipeline as it has several products already in or entering Phase III clinical trials.

Its shares are up 70% over the past 12 months and have a three-year average annual return of 26%. The company has a $23 billion market value.

For fiscal 2011, analysts estimate that Biogen will earn $5.87 per share and that that will grow by 8% to $6.34 in 2012.

S&P analysts have a price target of $108 on its shares.

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7. Humana ( HUM)

Company Profile: Humana offers an array of health and supplemental benefit products for employer groups, government benefit programs and individuals. It is one of the nation's largest managed care organizations, with over 11 million members.

2011 Total Return: 41.4%

Current Share Price: $77.88

S&P analysts have a $90 price target on its shares, which currently have a market value of $12.7 billion.

For the five years through 2010, Humana's health plan enrollment grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.7%, revenue grew at an 18.4% CAGR and operating earnings per share at a 28.6% CAGR, according to an S&P analyst's report.

Analysts' consensus earnings estimate is for $7.64 per share this year, growing 2% in 2012 to $7.81 per share.

Analysts give its shares 14 "strong buy" ratings and 11 "holds," according to TheStreetRatings.


6. Intuitive Surgical ( ISRG)

Company Profile: Intuitive Surgical designs, manufactures and markets its da Vinci robotic surgical systems, EndoWrist instruments and surgical accessories.

2011 Total Return: 42%

Current Share Price: $ 374.97

S&P analysts put a $420 price target on its shares. It currently has a market value of $14.6 billion.

Shares of Intuitive Surgical briefly topped $400 in July after second-quarter earnings. In the period, the company posted earnings of $2.91 per share on revenue of $426 million, both of which topped analysts' expectations.

Revenue grew 34% in 2010, driven by sales of its new da Vinci system. For fiscal 2011, analysts estimate the company will earn $11.46 per share and that will grow by 18% to $13.51 in 2012, according to S&P.

Analysts give the company six "strong buys" and nine "holds," according to TheStreet Ratings.

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5. VF Corp. ( VFC)

Company Profile: VF makes and markets clothing, specializing in jeans, sportswear, outdoor apparel and footwear, making it one of the largest apparel companies in the world.

2011 Total Return: 44%

Current Share Price: $125.86

S&P has a $140 price target on its shares. The company has a market value of almost $14 billion.

Among its brands are: Lee, Wrangler, Nautica, The North Face, Vans and Seven For All Mankind. In June, it announced its intention to buy Timberland for about $2 billion, which is expected to be a contributor to new growth.

VF benefits from substantial economies of scale in sourcing and distribution. In its most recent fiscal quarter, it posted earnings of $1.17 per share versus $1 per share in the previous quarter on a 15% increase in revenue. The company raised its 2011 guidance, and said it now expects revenue to rise 12% this year and earnings to reach about $7.50 per share.

Analysts give the company 10 "strong buy" ratings and eight "holds," according to TheStreet Ratings.


4. Cerner ( CERN) (CERN)

Company Profile: Cerner is a provider of health-care information-technology systems.

2011 Total Return: 46%

Current Share Price: $70.43

Cerner's Millennium software platform combines clinical, financial and administrative data that patients, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and physician offices can have access to in real time.

The company operates in 25 countries but 84% of its revenue is derived from U.S. customers. After a strong second quarter, Cerner raised its full-year earnings outlook to a range of $1.80 to $1.83 per share, up from the consensus $1.73 forecast of analysts.

S&P has an $80 price target on its shares. Its shares have an $11 billion market value.

Analysts give the company 10 "strong buy" ratings, one "moderate buy," and seven "holds," according to TheStreet Ratings.

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3. Chipotle Mexican Grill ( CMG)

Company Profile: Chipotle Mexican Grill operates fast-casual Mexican food restaurants in 35 states throughout the U.S.

2011 Total Return: 47%

Current Share Price: $321.38

The company had sales of $1.8 billion in 2010, making it the leader in the fast-casual restaurant category. Its niche is Mexican fast-food.

Its shares are up 92% over the past 12 months, giving it a market value of $10 billion.

S&P analysts' put a $330 price target on its shares.

In the second quarter, profit rose 9% to $50.7 million, or $1.59 per share, while revenue for the three months ended June 30 rose 22% to $571.6 million.

Institutional investors love this stock, as they own 62% of its outstanding shares. Fidelity Investments is the leader, with a 13.9% stake.

Analysts give the company seven "strong buy" ratings, 11 "holds," one "moderate sell," and one "strong sell," according to TheStreet Ratings.


2. MasterCard ( MA)

Company Profile: MasterCard services and supports credit, debit and related payment programs to financial institutions.

2011 Total Return: 49%

Current Share Price: $338.44

Shares of MasterCard have been on a steady upward climb for the past three years, recently reaching a record of $354.85 on Sept. 20. Its shares have a five-year average annual return of an eye-popping 39%.

Its earnings are up even though consumer spending is off due to high rates of unemployment and the weak economy. It is benefiting from a worldwide, secular trend toward card usage in lieu of cash and checks.

In the second quarter, MasterCard's earnings were up 33% to $4.76 per share as revenue jumped 22%.

S&P analysts put a 12-month $350 price target on its shares. It currently has a market value of $43 billion.

MasterCard is a darling among institutional investors, who own 78% of its outstanding shares. During the second quarter, billionaire investor Warren Buffett doubled his stake in the card processor

Analysts give it 20 "strong buy" ratings, four "moderate buys," and five "holds," according to TheStreet Ratings.

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1. Cabot Oil & Gas ( COG)

Company Profile: Cabot Oil & Gas produces and stores natural gas for resale. The company is involved in the huge Marcellus shale project in Appalachia, which is producing natural gas. It also has operations in the Gulf Coast, Mid-Continent and the Rockies.

2011 Total Return: 61%

Current Share Price: $63.71

Cabot Oil & Gas shares are up 118% over the past 12 months, giving it a $6.4 billion market value.

S&P analysts put a 12-month $78 price target on its shares.

Cabot was an early leader in the Marcellus exploration and gobbled up drilling rights cheaply and is now seeing booming natural gas production. It also has a promising new venture in oil production in Texas.

In its most recent quarter, the company earned 41 cents a share, 10 cents ahead of analysts' consensus estimates. Cabot also lifted its production outlook by 5% for the balance of the year.

Analysts give the company eight "strong buy" ratings, one "moderate buy," and eight "hold, according to TheStreet Ratings.

>>To see these stocks in action, visit the 10 Best-Performing S&P 500 Stocks of 2011 portfolio on Stockpickr.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.