SHLD), Bank of America ( BAC) and Netflix ( NFLX) are among the stocks that have shown the biggest increases in 2012 in contrast to last year, when they plunged between 55% and 61%. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 is up 8.6%, driven by an improvement in the outlook for the U.S. and eurozone economies over the last six months ago. The European Central Bank's large introduction of its first long term refinancing operation in late December has also been credited with fueling a rally in risk assets. "The best thing that occurred
last month, in my opinion, was that on Feb. 24, the S&P 500 recovered all that it lost during the 19.4% correction endured from Apr. 29, 2011 through Oct. 3, 2011," says Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. The ten best performing components of the S&P 500 so far this year have gained between 37% to 116%, topped by Sears. While many of these stocks are still in the negative looking back to the end of 2010, stocks such as Textron ( TXT) are up both year-to-date and back to the end of 2010. In the reverse order of strong performance, here are the S&P 500's 10 best-performing stocks year-to-date: 10. Eastman Chemical ( EMN) Performance: up 37.6% (but still down 34.2% from year-end 2010) Company profile: Eastman Chemical manufactures and markets chemicals, fibers and plastics around the world. In the last few years, Eastman has sold off noncore businesses, choosing to focus on higher-margin specialty products. Investor takeaway: Eastman announced on Jan. 27 that it will buy specialty chemical maker Solutia for about $3.38 billion in cash and stock as it strives to expand its presence in the emerging markets and move away from the more commodified basic chemicals space, such as the highly oversupplied plastics business it sold in 2011. In the opinion of Morningstar analysts, "the material tax benefits and cost synergies connected with the Solutia deal ending around midyear make the proposed acquisition attractive to Eastman on a valuation basis" and will help further its entry into specialty products, where relationships with customers tend to be tighter.