The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) has lit up investors' portfolios in 2013 with the rise of the markets, soaring to year-to-date gains of more than 15%. Yet the Dow's performance as of late has slipped from this year's surge in ways that investors have come to expect: From the start of July to the start of October, the Dow gained just 1.9%, thanks in large part to a big dive in August.
But the Dow's top performers have kept churning higher. Here are the three best Dow stocks of the last three months -- and what they're doing to impress investors so much.
The Dow's big winners
Nike's (NYSE:NKE) only been in the Dow for a short time, but this stock has been hitting all the right marks recently. The stock has risen by 13.7% from July to October, driven higher largely because of the company's strong fiscal first-quarter earnings it recently reported. Nike beat top- and bottom-line estimates in that report, but it's what the firm's doing globally that has investors looking for more.
The firm has driven up revenue in economically troubled Europe recently despite the region's recession, raising revenue by 8% in Western Europe in the last quarter. Similarly, Nike has soared in North America, its largest market, where it boosted sales by 9% year over year for the quarter. While China remains a problem for the company going forward, the firm's leading the pack ahead into a bright future for the industry.
Research firm Transparency Market Research estimates that the athletic footwear market, in which Nike is one of the largest players, will grow more than 14% between 2011 and 2018 to 211.5 billion by that final year. If Nike can continue its reign as a market leader, it'll be well-poised to continue delivering strong gains to investors.
Boeing's (NYSE:BA) performed even better over the past three months, pulling in gains of 15% between July and October despite a few setbacks at the company. The firm's failure to capture South Korea's $7.7 billion jet fighter contract despite leading the contenders for the bid is a huge missed opportunity for Boeing's defense division. Even with that recent miss, however, Boeing's defense division has managed to grow its operating margin year over year to 9.9% from 9.1% in the first six months of 2013, and revenue has continued to rise.
However, investors have bought into the company's promise over the past three months based on the trajectory of the company's civilian airliner business. The firm's civilian aircraft division is its largest segment by sales, boasting an operating margin of 11% in the first six months of the year -- up from 10.1% a year ago. The segment has continued to drive its backlog higher as Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner has emerged from the clouds of its grounding earlier in the year. The 787 has taken off on its flight toward success in the latter half of 2013, and as more orders come in for the new jet, expect Boeing's largest business -- and its stock -- to fly even higher.
But even Boeing's gains over the last three months haven't kept up with recent Dow leader United Technologies (NYSE:UTX). UTC's stock jumped 15.5% between the start of July and the beginning of October. This sturdy stock hasn't seen the fits and starts of stocks boosted by earnings or other one-time events: UTC's shares have marched higher to a steady beat all through the past quarter.
That has come even as the company's operating margins have slipped during the first six months of the year, especially at defense subsidiary Sikorsky, which saw its operating margin fall to 8.7% during 2013's first half from 11.8% a year ago. Still, UTC's driven revenues across its business higher by more than 16% through 2013 so far, more than making up for slipping margins as profit has soared. If UTC can post similar growth for the third quarter, investors won't be disappointed by this stock in the coming weeks.
Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.