Updated with Bruce Berkowitz's comments on Bank of AmericaBOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The top 10 performers in the benchmark S&P 500 so far this year aren't easy to characterize. They range from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold ( FCX) to Bank of America ( BAC). The S&P 500 gained 4.4% in January, the biggest increase for that month in 15 years, helped by signs the European sovereign debt crisis, a cloud over the markets last year, might be coming to a resolution soon. And, perhaps secondarily, the Federal Reserve said it would remain active in boosting the economy and keep inflation in check. The top 10 companies in the S&P 500 in January had share gains that were clustered in the 27% to 39% range, with DVD and digital entertainment deliverer Netflix ( NFLX) the outlier with a whopping 77% jump. Still, if you look back to the end of 2010, many of these stocks are still in the hole, so a month or so of increases doesn't wipe that out. In inverse order of return, here are the S&P 500's 10 best-performing stocks of January with their performance for the month: 10. CA ( CA) Performance: up 26% Company profile: CA is one of the largest independent providers of IT management software. Revenue from its core mainframe segment represents about 60% of total sales. Investor takeaway: Shares jumped late in January after the company reported third-quarter earnings rose 32% and announced plans to raise its annual dividend five-fold to $1.
8. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold ( FCX) Performance: up 27% (but still down 23% since the end of 2010) Company profile: Freeport-McMoRan's mines produce more copper and molybdenum than any other company in the world. It also produces gold. Investor takeaway: Metals mining have historically been highly volatile. Analysts give Freeport-McMoRan eight "buys" and one "hold," according to Morningstar. Two weeks ago, the company reported that fourth-quarter net profit was $640 million, down from $1.5 billion in same period of 2010, but full-year earnings hit a record $4.6 billion.
6. Eastman Chemical ( EMN) Performance: up 30% Company profile: Eastman Chemical is a global producer of chemicals, plastics and fibers, with manufacturing sites in seven countries. Investor takeaway: During January, the company announced the $4.7 billion acquisition of Solutia ( SOA), another chemicals and plastics-making firm, which may have contributed to the price pop. Although it has a diverse international customer base, some of its biggest customers are in the cyclical auto and construction industries. S&P has it rated "buy" and its $60 price target is a 20% premium to the current price.
4. First Solar ( FSLR) Performance: up 31% (but still down 66% from year-end 2010) Company profile: First Solar manufactures solar modules and turnkey solar systems. It has a competitive advantage due to its technology. Investor takeaway: The company likely got a boost when, late in January, the MidAmerican Energy unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.B) said it has started a new company to oversee a variety of solar, wind and other renewable-energy projects. In December, MidAmerican said it would buy a $2 billion California solar farm from First Solar, lending support to the outlook for the whole industry.
2. Textron ( TXT) Performance: up 39% Company profile: Textron's wide-ranging business interests span the aerospace, defense, financial and industrial markets. Its Cessna is the leader in business jets, while its Bell unit is a popular maker of helicopters. Investor takeaway: Textron is in many cyclical businesses and its defense sector is vulnerable to Congressional budget cutting. For 2012, its management is targeting an 11% improvement in sales, driven by further gains at Cessna and Bell, and $1.80 to $2 per share in earnings, about 35% to 50% higher than 2011's adjusted earnings. Since the end of 2010, its shares are up 8%.