4 Companies to Give Thanks for This Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving and the markets are closed for the day, which gives us at The Motley Fool an opportunity to reflect on companies and stocks that have made a big impact on our lives and our portfolios this year.

Overall, it's been a great year for the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has returned 25.7% this year and each day seems to bring a new market high. That rising tide has lifted a lot of stocks, but some are up more than others, some of which are helping make our world a better place. Here are three stocks I'm thankful for this year.

Tesla Motors
In my opinion, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) has done more to impact the auto business in the last five years than anyone in nearly a century. It has taken the crazy concept of an electric car, made it a reality, and, most importantly, made it a desirable vehicle to own. That's something giant carmakers Nissan and General Motors failed to do in their electric-car attempts.

What may be more important long term is that Tesla has pushed big, slow-moving automakers to rethink the automobile. In the past year, we've seen BMW introduce high-performance electric vehicles, Ford and Toyota sell electric vehicles, and new technology from three new hydrogen vehicles have been introduced. Tesla proved that a well-made electric vehicle could sell and now the game is on to make the next great EV or introduce technology that's even better.

The Tesla Model S battery and chassis.

I don't know if Tesla will be the dominant EV company in 20 years, but it's gotten a great start. For investors, just Tesla's turn to profitability resulted in most of the 275% returns the stock has given this year. It's nice to get such great returns from a company making a positive impact on a once-stagnant industry.

Without Tesla pushing the auto industry in that direction I don't know if it would have happened. For that, I'm thankful.

Solar stocks
A year ago, it seemed like the solar industry was dying before our eyes, but today it's thriving in the U.S. and around the world. Two companies have emerged with products and business plans that make that possible: SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR  ) and SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) .

SunPower has long been my personal solar pick and a big part of my portfolio for years, so this year's 445% gain has me especially thankful. But its operational improvements that have me thankful for what SunPower is doing in the energy industry.

SunPower is a leader in efficiency, making panels that convert 21.5% of the sun's light into energy. They've also cut costs to the point where they can build utility projects and sell power into the grid on the spot market (Chile) and put solar panels on roofs that provide cost-effective energy on a net-metered basis. Just a few years ago, the thought of grid parity seemed impossible, but now it's driving growth for the industry. SunPower's efficiency and cost improvements have helped make this possible and will drive growth in solar installations.

SolarCity residential installations. Image courtesy of SolarCity.

On the residential side, the bigger installer is actually SolarCity, which installed more than three times the residential solar projects SunPower did last quarter. Depending on where you live, you may see SolarCity's work down the street, on roofs of retail stores you visit, and may even consider it for your own house. SolarCity has made solar accessible to the average homeowner around the country and investors have gobbled up in 2013. SolarCity is up 312% since the start of the year and it's expecting big-time growth again next year.

SunPower is improving the back-end technology and cost of solar while SolarCity is improving the efficiency of installing solar on rooftops around the country. I'm thankful for the innovations at both companies that make for not only great investments but also a revolutionary and clean energy source.

Apple
2013 hasn't been the best year for Apple on the stock market, but it has been an incredible decade. In 2003, the iPod was just getting started, the iPhone was barely on the horizon, and the iPad wasn't even conceivable. Today, you likely have one of these devices, or a device inspired by them, within arm's reach.

Few companies have ever had such a fast and lasting impact on how we live our daily lives. Apple hasn't just changed the way consumers live; it's changed the way commerce is done. I've ordered food on an iPad, paid for fireworks on an iPhone, and beamed home videos from these devices straight to my TV. Apple made a lot of that possible.

The sheer size of Apple's ecosystem can't be forgotten at this time, either. The App Store now has more than 1 million apps, opening up innovation to millions of developers, who once had to navigate a maze just to find distribution for software. With iTunes and the App Store, Apple has brought consumers closer to developers, musicians, and filmmakers, something we take for granted today.

I'm thankful for all of technology brought to us by Apple and inspired by the company as well.

What are you thankful for?
What companies or stocks are you thankful for this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

A stock you'll be thankful for next year
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