8. Apple ( AAPL) Performance: up 52.5% (up 91.5% from year-end 2010) Company profile: Maker of the iPhone, iPad and MacBook. 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 keeps hitting new highs, 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. The newest iPad launch a few weeks ago was a huge success. Investors also cheered the company's announcement that it will begin paying a dividend and buy back $10 billion worth of shares over the next three years.
6. Priceline.com ( PCLN) Performance: up 53.6% (up 79.8% from year-end 2010) Company profile: Global online travel company that allows customers to make hotel reservations, rent cars, and purchase airline tickets and vacation packages. Investor takeaway: Priceline.com has among the best sales growth in the online travel industry, and it hasn't weakened. International expansion over the next three to five years will be a key growth driver. 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.
4. Whirlpool ( WHR) Performance: up 60.1% (but still down 11.5% from year-end 2010) Company profile: Whirlpool is a leader in the $120 billion global home appliance industry. Its most famous brands are Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Bauknecht, Brastemp and Consul. Investor takeaway: Whirlpool's stock price surged over 25% in the days following Feb. 1, when the company issued a bullish outlook for 2012. Whirlpool's earnings forecast (for $6.50 to $7.00 in EPS) handily exceeded the Wall Street consensus target at that time. Last year, the company cut about 5,000 jobs and is planning for more cuts this year. To be sure, shares have also gotten a boost from hopes of a bottoming housing market, similar to another housing name on the list.
2. Bank of America ( BAC) Performance: up 75.6% (but still down 26.5% from year-end 2010) Company profile: Bank of America is one of the largest financial institutions in both the U.S. and overseas, lending to consumers, small businesses and corporations, in addition to its asset management and investment banking divisions. The company operates in 50 states. Investor takeaway: Bank of America's stock popped 15% in the days after it was announced the bank had sufficient capital ratios to pass the government's latest round of stress tests in mid-March. The company didn't request to increase its dividend or buyback during the review. Since then, the stock has been trading in a tight range. An improved capital position is very encouraging and coupled with Project New BAC, where CEO Brian Moynihan is cleaning up the business in several phases, which included slashing costs by $5 billion a year by 2014, it seems this bank is finally getting its house in order. Last week, the company said it's putting together an international advisory board to provide guidance on global strategy, preparing for a global push. About 65% of the analysts who follow the company rank it as a "hold."