10 'Stocks of the Decade' Rise at Least 1,200%

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If you invested in the following 10 stocks 10 years ago and held on to them throughout the financial meltdown, you'd be the financial genius of the decade.

Joy Global ( JOY), Priceline.com ( PCLN) and Cliffs Natural Resources ( CLF) are among those that have risen the most. All of the 10 top-performing shares have turned $1,000 into at least $12,000.

Meanwhile, if that $1,000 would have been invested in the benchmark S&P 500 Index, it would have lost 19% of its value. Most of the decline would have occurred during the Great Recession, when the S&P 500 plummeted starting in the fall of 2008. The benchmark index is now at the highest level since summer 2008 as the U.S. and, now, Europe have adopted monetary policies to fuel a rally in riskier assets.

The top 10 stocks of the past decade represent a wide range of sectors. Energy firms and companies that offer unique products to their consumers have fared the best. Some could very well be great stocks to own over the next decade. Others will rely on trends in China or government regulation to mimic the growth they recorded in the past decade.

The 10 best-performing components of the S&P 500 have gained between 1,290% to 4,900%, topped by none other than Apple ( AAPL), maker of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

In the reverse order of performance, here are the S&P 500's 10 best-performing stocks of the decade:

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10. Cummins ( CMI)

Company Description: Makes diesel engines for the truck, bus, auto, industrial and electric power generation industries. About 64% of revenue is generated outside the U.S.

10-Year Stock Performance: 1,290%

Investor Takeaway: The stock gained some solid upside between the start of the decade and 2008, but retreated during the global recession. After getting through 2008, earnings per share impressively grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29% between 2008 and 2011.

Over that same period, the stock tripled on strong demand in China and India, but as that demand weakened, North American picked up and the company started gaining share domestically. Plenty of trucking data out recently is expecting sales growth to continue for heavy-duty, commercial trucks that use Cummins engines.

Analyst Ratings: 75% Buy / 25% Hold

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 14x / 16x

9. Joy Global

Company Description: Manufacturer of coal-mining equipment.

10-Year Stock Performance: 1,440%

Investor Takeaway: After falling off a cliff in 2008 with the rest of the stock market, Joy Global rebounded rapidly to 2011, which was a volatile year. The biggest concern for the company is the long-term secular decline of coal in the U.S.

That said, Joy Global is benefiting significantly from the long-term boom in China and India, which are using coal to address electricity demand in their developing economies. As Jim Cramer explains in a Real Money article, "Joy's basically a play on China's coal demand and Chinese mines and the Australian ones that also help service China's power plants and, like it or not, that business is getting stronger, not weaker."

Analyst Ratings: 63% Buy / 37% Hold

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 14x / 16x

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8. Titanium Metals ( TIE)

Company Description: Producer of titanium melted and mill products.

10-Year Stock Performance: 1,540%

Investor Takeaway: Titanium Metals has performed well over the past few years, but the rising cost of titanium is concerning for investors. Management expects volumes to increase 7% to 10% and prices to increase modestly but some analysts question the company's ability to avoid margin pressures.

On the positive side, JPMorgan ( JPM) notes Titanium Metal's lower defense exposure, leverage to Boeing's ( BA) increasing build rates, improving diversity of melting technologies, and recent insider and affiliated company purchases. The stock is trading well below its $40 high in 2006.

Analyst Ratings: 17% Buy / 67% Hold / 16% Sell

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 20x / 31x

7. Range Resources ( RRC)

Company Description: Natural gas and oil exploration company mostly operating out of the Appalachian and Southwestern regions of the U.S.

10-Year Stock Performance: 2,010%

Investor Takeaway: The stock hit a new 10-year high in October before pulling back as natural gas prices reached a 10-year low. Despite that, the stock has held up relatively well and has been able to recoup a good amount of that decline.

Given new technologies, the company has been able to reduce costs and has also benefited from price increases. The long-term outlook for natural gas demand domestically is strong, and to the extent government regulation could be passed to enforce utilization of the clean energy product, Range Resources will benefit.

Analyst Ratings: 44% Buy / 54% Hold / 9% Sell

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 85x / 58x

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6. Southwestern Energy ( SWN)

Company Description: Natural gas and oil exploration, development and production company.

10-Year Stock Performance: 2,260%

Investor Takeaway: The stock has had a solid run over the past 10 years, though has been on a declining trend since mid-2011.

Last week, the company reported weaker-than-expected earnings and disappointing results from a test well in the Brown Dense area (a new oil shale). The company's minimal exposure to oil makes some investors nervous, given the decline in natural gas prices, but management is focused on increasing its diversification into oil assets.

The outlook for long-term demand for natural gas could make this an attractive buy, but Credit Suisse contends that "Southwestern could struggle relative to its large-cap peers given natural gas price weakness, its premium valuation, and lack of higher-valued liquids in the portfolio."

Analyst Ratings: 36% Buy / 54% Hold / 10% Sell

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 18x / 30x

5. Cognizant Technology Solutions ( CTSH)

Company Description: Information-technology consulting and outsourcing firm.

10-Year Stock Performance: 2,300%

Investor Takeaway: With the growing importance of technology in the workplace, coupled with corporate mandates to cut expenses during the recession, Cognizant has been flourishing.

Health care is an important industry for the company, especially as pharmaceutical firms look to technology to offset headwinds from the expiration of patents for blockbuster drugs. On the other hand, the banking sector will exhibit weakness this year, given the financial crisis in Europe. Economic growth and expansion will favor the company, which is currently growing at industry-leading rates (sales grew 33% in 2011).

Analyst Ratings: 83% Buy / 17% Hold

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 25x / 27x

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4. Priceline.com

Company Description: Global online travel company that allows customers to make hotel reservations, rent cars, and purchase airline tickets and vacation packages.

10-Year Stock Performance: 2,510%

Investor Takeaway: Priceline.com has among the best sales growth in the online travel industry and that hasn't weakened. International expansion over the next three to five years will be a key growth driver going forward. To its advantage, Priceline operates a highly variable cost model and doesn't have the IT investments that other online travel sites do. The balance sheet is very strong, with cash per share of $42 at the end of the most recent quarter.

Analyst Ratings: 83% Buy / 13% Hold / 4% Sell

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 32x / 30x

3. Intuitive Surgical ( ISRG)

Company Description: Intuitive Surgical makes the da Vinci Surgical System, which is used to turn a doctor's hand movements into corresponding micro-movements by instruments placed inside a patient's body during surgery. The system provides three dimensional (3D), high-definition vision for the doctor.

10-Year Stock Performance: 2,680%

Investor Takeaway: The stock hit a new all-time high last week. Between 2008 and 2011, Intuitive Surgical grew earnings at a 34% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Double digit top-line growth is expected to continue going forward but the mix will shift more toward the service segment, which carries lower margins that the sale of the machines.

To be sure, the machines will still generate the majority of revenue. The company has virtually no competition, is buying back stock and could potentially do a stock split in the future.

Analyst Ratings: 38% Buy / 62% Hold

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 42x / 49x

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2. Cliffs Natural Resources

Company Description: Coal- and iron-ore-mining company.

10-Year Stock Performance: 3,150%

Investor Takeaway: Cliffs Natural Resources' stock price has struggled over the past year as demand for steel and iron ore in China has moderated. More recently, iron ore prices have declined, which doesn't bode well for margins.

On the flip side, recent policy actions in China (lowering the required reserve ratio for banks) have been encouraging and some think steel demand is nearing a bottom. According to Bank of America's ( BAC) Merrill Lynch, "the government could soon announce water infrastructure projects, rail expansions, nuclear plants, and other energy-related projects -- all steel-intensive, supporting demand even without an overt stimulus. Bottom line, if China is serious about 2012 GDP growth targets, and we believe it is, it will act soon to spur steel demand."

Analyst Ratings: 67% Buy / 33% Hold

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 5x / 16x

1. Apple

Company Description: Maker of the iPhone, iPad and MacBook.

10-Year Stock Performance: 4,900%

Investor Takeaway: Apple has been an amazing stock over the past 10 years -- just look at the chart below. The company now has a market cap of over $500 billion, the stock hit a new all-time high recently, and there's big buzz surrounding the company, with most analysts certain that the stock has plenty of room to go higher.

The backlog of new products seems to be robust and consumers can't seem to get enough of them. This week, the third-generation iPad and an updated version of Apple TV is expected to be introduced.

Apple has a huge cash position -- about $100 billion on its balance sheet. The company is getting pressure from investors to distribute some of that, and many speculate a special dividend to shareholders may be a good way to do that.

Analyst Ratings: 89% Buy / 9% Hold / 2% Sell

Current P/E Ratio vs. 5-Year Avg.: 16x / 23x

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-- Written by Lindsey Bell in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to Lindsey Bell.