Best of 2011: Large-Cap Stocks

A topsy-turvy year for the stock market has finally come to an end. Results among the major stock indexes were mixed in 2011. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 5.5% for the year, the S&P 500 was virtually unchanged, while the Nasdaq was down 1.8%. As we enter the new year, some troubling issues still plague the markets – namely the spreading European debt crisis and the slow growth and mounting national deficit here in the U.S.

But rather than dwell on the negatives that have spilled over into 2012, it’s time to look back on the positives from 2011. And there were plenty of positives.

Over the next few days, we will examine the top-performing stocks of 2011, broken down into specific categories. Today we look at some of the bigger names on the stock market: the large-cap stocks. There were several large caps that made impressive gains in 2011. But as we will do in our subsequent “Best of” stories, our purpose in this article is to identify the cream of the crop among large-cap stocks.

Without further ado, here are the three best-performing large-cap stocks of 2011 based strictly on percentage gains:

1. El Paso Corp. (NYSE: EP)

Market Cap: $20.49 billion

2010 Closing Price (per share): $13.76

2011 Closing Price: $26.57

2011 Gains: 93.2%

It was a banner year for one of North America’s leading natural gas providers. El Paso posted huge profits the first three quarters of the year, including $262 million in earnings during its second quarter. The company’s stock skyrocketed in October, jumping from $17.13 per share on October 3 to $25.01 per share by the end of the month, on news that Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE: KMI) was buying El Paso for the hefty sum of $38 billion. Kinder Morgan plans to officially take control of El Paso in the second quarter of 2012. Kinder Morgan plans to sell the exploration and production side of El Paso’s business over the next few years.

2. Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG)

Market Cap: $18.28 billion

2010 Closing Price: $257.75

2011 Closing Price: $463.01

2011 Gains: 79.6%

This California-based company designs and builds the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotically assisted form of minimally invasive surgery. The da Vinci innovation has been the driving force behind Intuitive Surgical’s meteoric rise over the past five years. The stock is up 390% since early 2007, its bottom line tripling during that time. The stock will continue to grow as the da Vinci robots continue to be cleared for more and more medical uses. Today they are cleared to treat everything from kidney disorders to obesity to prostate cancer to its latest approved use, gall bladder removal. NASA is also interested in using the surgical robot to repair its satellites. With its da Vinci robot in such high demand, Intuitive Surgical’s stock surged in 2011.

3. Alexion Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ALXN)

Market Cap: $13.16 billion

2010 Closing Price: $40.27

2011 Closing Price: $71.50

2011 Gains: 77.5%

Here’s another company that provides medical services that made huge strides in 2011. Alexion Pharmaceuticals develops therapeutic products that treat patients with rare severe and life-threatening diseases. The company raked in more than $700 million in revenue in 2011, and is now in the process of buying out privately held biotech company Enobia Pharma Corporation.

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