In the investment community, the Standard and Poors 500 Index (S&P 500) is the most common benchmark representing the stock market as a whole. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was at one time the most renowned index for U.S. stocks, but because the DJIA contains only 30 companies, most people agree that the S&P 500 is a better representation of the U.S. market. This is why S&P 500 Index funds are a favorite among passive ETF investors. (To learn more, see Active Vs. Passive ETF Investing)

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There are a number of ways to invest in the S&P 500. SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:SPY) holds all 500 S&P500 stocks. The ETF, often called Spiders, closely mirrors the price performance of the S&P500. The Proshares UltraPro S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:UPRO) triples the daily price movement of the S&P 500 in either direction through the use of leverage.

However picking individual stocks may have been more profitable. In 2011, out of the 500 stocks in the index, about 233 of the component stocks have yielded positive returns.

Here are the 5 highest performing S&P 500 stocks:

Company Market Cap % Return
Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG) 7.53B 90.89%
EI Paso (NYSE:EP) 19.07B 80.12%
Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq:ISRG) 16.70B 66.19%
Biogen (Nasdaq:BIIB) 26.66B 63.65%
Mastercard(NYSE:MA) 45.59B 60.63%

Bottom Line
These stocks have achieved gains of more than 60%, and are well worth an in-depth look.

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