The biggest winners in the S&P 500 during the first quarter of 2011 came from a variety of sectors, including energy, technology and financials. These companies benefited from restructurings, earnings upside and upbeat outlooks. Let's check out which companies were leading the index in Q1.
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Two energy stocks headlined the list of best performing stocks in the S&P 500 during the first quarter of 2011. Tesoro (NYSE:TSO) which is a refiner, rose 47%. Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), which is more diversified across the upstream and downstream, did almost as well and finished up 46%.
Tesoro has been rallying in price for much longer than the first quarter of 2011, and has seen its stock price nearly triple since September 2010, moving up from just over $10 to the current price near $27 per share.
Tesoro announced at the end of 2010 that it would separate its logistics business from the rest of the company through a public offering sometime in 2011. The new company will operate as Tesoro Logistics LP, and own crude oil gathering assets, refined products terminals and storage assets.
This news lifted the stock higher as previous restructurings in the industry have created shareholder value. The company has also seen strong earnings momentum during the quarter, with earnings estimates for the current quarter increasing from 5 cents to 55 cents per share over the last 90 days.
Marathon Oil also announced a restructuring and plans to separate into two independent companies; one composed of the company's upstream assets and the other containing the downstream segment. The refining business will operate under the Marathon Petroleum Corporation name.
Like Tesoro, Marathon Oil has also seen a strong uptrend in earnings estimates in 2011, with estimates for the June 2011 quarter moving up from $1.18 to $1.45 per share.
Micron (Nasdaq:MU) also made investors happy, finishing the quarter up 45%. The company recently reported second-quarter results and beat consensus estimates on both earnings and revenues.
However, investors who bought Micron might want to follow the lead of CEO Steven R. Appleton and take some profits. He sold 225,000 shares at an average price of $11.68 after earnings were released.
H & R Block (NYSE:HRB) returned more than 43% to investors during the first quarter of 2011. Although the company reported a loss in the most recent quarter, investors may have bid the stock higher after learning that tax returns filed through February 2010 were up by 6% over last year. Management was positive on future growth in 2011.
H & R Block also benefited from reports that competitor Jackson Hewitt (NYSE:JTX) might be in talks for a prepackaged bankruptcy filing.
The Bottom Line
The biggest S&P 500 winners during the first quarter of 2011 were a diverse crew of companies from different sectors that made the list for a variety of different reasons. (These five qualitative measures allow investors to draw conclusions about a corporation that are not apparent on the balance sheet. Check out Using Porter's 5 Forces To Analyze Stocks.)
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