2016 is shaping up to be another good year for the markets. The S&P 500 is currently up more than 6% year to date, which is a solid return considering investors had to deal with the uncertainty of the U.S. election and the Brexit vote.
However, three companies from the famous index have done far better than average, treating their investors to gains of over 100%. Let's take a closer look at those three companies -- Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (FCX 2.04%), ONEOK (OKE -1.13%), and NVIDIA (NVDA 3.07%) -- to see what caused the huge outperformance.
Have we reached the bottom?
Few industries have been hit as hard over the last few years as commodity producers. The prices of oil, gold, copper, and more have all been in free fall for years, which has punished producers like Freeport-McMoRan. As of February, shares of the mining and oil giant had declined by more than 90% from their 2012 high. While that was awful for shareholders to endure, it did set the company up nicely for a rebound when the cycle finally turned.
Thus far, it looks like 2016 might be the turning point for the industry. The prices of gold, oil, silver, and copper are all up by double digits since the start of the year. That's turned out to be great news for Freeport. The company has been struggling under the weight of its massive debt, so it has been offloading assets in an effort to pay it down. The company has even telegraphed its interest in leaving the oil and gas business altogether, but finding a buyer in this market has been tough.
The rebounding price of oil has renewed investors' optimism that a sale might be in the cards, In fact, famous billionaire investors Carl Icahn and David Tepper have already built up sizable positions in Freeport, likely because they believe the worst of the commodity decline is over, and they smell an opportunity to profit. Add it all up, and Freeport's investors have enjoyed a 105% year-to-date gain.
A pipeline to prosperity
Commodity producers weren't the only stocks slammed in the fallout of the energy downturn. Even more stable businesses like natural gas pipeline operators such as ONEOK fell off a cliff as investors fled from the energy markets en masse. From peak to trough, shares of ONEOK declined by more than 70% before they finally bottomed out in February.
The rebound in energy prices has caused the markets to reassess the company's prospects, and a closer look at its results provides reasons for optimism. ONEOK has placed an emphasis on increasing its fee-based revenue, which does not fluctuate with commodity prices. Meanwhile, new projects continue to come on line. Those factors have helped its profits to rebound, which enhances ONEOK's ability to cover its dividend.
The markets have responded in kind by sending shares of ONEOK up 108% year to date. With the dividend looking more secure and the long-term shift toward natural gas still very much in place, ONEOK's future is looking bright.
Visualizing good times ahead
It might surprise you to learn that the biggest winner in the S&P 500 in 2016 has nothing to do with the rebound in commodity prices. Instead, graphics-chip maker NVIDIA takes home the top prize, with shares up a staggering 155% since January.
What's caused the rally? NVIDIA's shares have been rocketing higher thanks to a series of great earnings reports, the most recent of which was an absolute blowout. Third-quarter sales soared 54% to $2 billion, slamming past the consensus estimate of $1.69 billion. The massive top-line beat translated into huge gains on the bottom line, too.
The beat didn't come from any one-time wins, either. Gaming, the company's most important segment by revenue, grew revenue by 63% thanks to the launch of its new Pascal processor architecture. Growth in artificial intelligence is also driving demand for supercomputing components, which is greatly benefiting NVIDIA's data center business. Sales from this division nearly tripled year over year. Finally, the company's automotive segment is also firmly in growth mode, and with its Drive PX 2 platform powering Tesla's new Autopilot system, the company looks well positioned for further gains ahead.
All in all, NVIDIA has several long-term trends working in its favor, putting the company in a sweet spot for continued growth. That makes it an ideal stock for growth-focused investors to keep an eye on.