The bull market in stocks has been going strong for almost nine years now, and hundreds of stocks have posted impressive gains. Even with a rising market, some stocks stand out as big winners. Among companies that have seen their shares jump 500% or more in the past five years, you'll find airline giant Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ), and memory-chip specialist Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU). Investors want to know not just how these stocks made their moves, but also whether they can continue to advance in the years ahead.


5-Year Total Return

Southwest Airlines


Constellation Brands


Micron Technology


Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

Investors fly higher with this stock

Southwest Airlines has a reputation for having always found ways to make money. Even when the rest of the airline industry struggled through huge losses and bankruptcies, Southwest consistently turned a profit, using a slightly different business model to differentiate itself from its rivals. In particular, Southwest has eschewed the ancillary charges that other carriers have used to become wildly profitable, including fees for baggage and changing flights. Southwest has also expanded its route map, going international with flights to Mexico and the Caribbean and looking at further opportunities for growth.

Southwest has gotten several boosts in the past five years. A vote of confidence came from Warren Buffett, who added the stock to his portfolio despite having famously said that the entire airline industry was a money-losing proposition. Recent moves to switch to a new reservation system promise greater efficiency, and fleet renovations are saving on costs. All told, Southwest is riding an industry updraft to higher altitude, and favorable conditions show no signs of ending soon.

Southwest aircraft reflected on a shiny surface.

Image source: Southwest Airlines.

More beer for Constellation

Constellation Brands owes its share-price gains to the wild success of its beer business. The 2013 acquisition of full rights to sell the Corona, Modelo, and Pacifico beer brands in the U.S. was a coup for the company and nearly doubled its revenue, and the popularity of Corona in particular has led to large increases in beer sales for the company.

More recently, Constellation has moved toward the upper end of the price spectrum for its alcohol brands. Acquisitions of premium winemaker Meiomi Wines and the craft brewer Ballast Point Brewery were just a few examples of the company's strategy toward seeking a great share of the premium market, and phasing out lower-margin brands to focus more sharply on its higher-priced products has been a win both for the bottom line and for Constellation's reputation among connoisseurs. Trends come and go in the beer, wine, and spirits industry, but Constellation has thus far adroitly navigated changing industry conditions and found ways to jump on growth opportunities.

Remember this stock

Micron Technology operates in a cyclical business, and the cycle has trended sharply higher in recent years. After years of price wars among the industry's biggest players, demand for memory to support technological advances like mobile devices and solid-state data storage has been strong. Micron's innovation in the graphics and high-performance memory space has helped it stand out from competitors, as the company has found ways to ride the coattails of products from other highly successful tech giants.

For now, supplies of memory are tight, and that's supporting healthy prices that are boosting Micron's short-term profits. Micron is working hard to expand its market share in key growth areas of the market. Until capacity constraints go away -- and that could take years -- many see Micron continuing to make plenty of hay while the sun is shining.

A rising market has helped many stocks, but Micron, Constellation, and Southwest stand out as some of the biggest winners in the market. Each of these three companies has a lot going for it, and there's plenty of potential for future gains in the years to come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.