The 10 Best S&P 500 Stocks of 2012 (PHM, S, WHR, EXPE, LEN, MPC, GILD, BAC, TSO, STZ)

Jon C. Ogg

The list of the best stocks of 2012 on the S&P 500 Index is one which makes sense in some cases and doesn’t in other cases. Some of these are simply recovery situations from lows but a few are just solid executions. Some of these stocks have performed so well that analysts see very little upside ahead, but others still are believed to have considerable upside to their price targets.

These are the best stocks year-to-date so far in 2012 with less than a month until year-end:

1) PulteGroup, Inc. (NYSE: PHM) is the leader of the pack and shares are up 200% from the 52-week low. Before the drop on Wednesday, Pulte shares were up about 171%. The move here is simple: the housing recovery. Analysts expect gains of less than 10% based on the $18.44 consensus price target.

2) Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE: S) may still be a troubled wireless phone player, but the new Softbank investment has acted to treat this as a buyout into what will seem like a Softbank tracking stock for the Sprint operation. After years of lagging, Sprint shares were up 142% year-to-date in 2012.

3) Whirlpool Corp. (NYSE: WHR) is another housing winner, but on the appliances side of the equation. Analysts still see upside of another 10% based upon the number of years old that many appliances are in the public since consumers have tried to save money since the recession. The gain here has been 117% year to date.

4) Expedia Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE) has been very impressive with shares up more than 100% off the 52-week low and with gains of 108% year to date. Analysts are looking for further gains of only about 8% here.

5) Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) is another homebuilders where the shares have doubled off the lows. The gain here year to date has been about 93%, but we would caution that shares recently traded above the consensus analyst price target objective of $27.42.

6) Marathon Petroleum Corporation (NYSE: MPC) has more than doubled off its 52-week low and shares are up 82% year to date. Our own Paul Ausick said that the refineries have access to cheaper mid-continent crude, making gasoline from that gives a higher margin.

7) Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) has been winning from its lineup of AIDS drugs and others. The year-to-date gain makes it the S&P 500’s best healthcare stock with gains of 81%. Analysts still see about 11% upside to the consensus price target of $82.50.

8) Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) should be no surprise that it is the top bank stock of the S&P 500 Index. It was an absolutely dismal performer back in 2011 and it has bounced the most. A big gain put this one at 52-week highs, but shares were up about 79% year to date already. The caution now is that analysts have to play catch-up or the bank is going to be deemed close to full value as the consensus price target is $10.20.

9) Tesoro Corporation (NYSE: TSO) was another refiner that won from higher margins. While this one is up 75% year to date, the $40 price still has upside of close to 30% to the consensus target of $52.07 on this name.

10) Constellation Brands Inc. (NYSE: STZ) has continued to rise from what looked like summer doldrums. Selling booze and wine works in good times and bad. The year to date gain has been about 73% and analysts still see upside of about 14% to the $40.78 consensus price target.


*Consensus price targets from Thomson Reuters; year-to-date gains calculated by Finviz