The broad market may be up a bit for the past few weeks. The bigger trend, however, remains bearish. The S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.16%) is still down 17% from January's high, and the rebound effort since mid-October is inconsistent at best. Indeed, a handful of the S&P 500's stocks -- including former favorites like Tesla and Meta Platforms -- are suffering their worst-ever annual performances.

Some stocks are defying this headwind, though. They're doing so firmly enough and persistently enough, in fact, they merit consideration as potential purchases right now. Here's a closer look at the top three of these proven prospects.

1. Royal Caribbean Cruises

The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. But consumers are increasingly doing the things they were regularly doing prior to the coronavirus contagion, like shopping, seeing a movie, or traveling for leisure. Data from the United States' Transportation Safety Administration indicates domestic air travel is essentially back to its pre-pandemic levels. While worldwide air traffic isn't quite fully restored, the International Air Transport Association estimates it's now roughly three-quarters of what it was, and en route to a full recovery within the next couple of years.

The rebound of leisure travel is, of course, benefiting most maritime cruise stocks, but none so much as Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL 0.61%).

Shares of the cruise company are up more than 80% from July's low in response to not one but two impressive quarterly reports. Total bookings for its second fiscal quarter topped 2019's Q2 bookings, and the same can be said of its Q3 bookings.

The company also indicates reservations for 2023 are at or near historical averages in terms of customer head counts. These bookings, however, were made at record prices. Perhaps most notably, Royal Caribbean swung back to an operating profit during the three-month stretch ending in September.

There's no doubt about it: The leisure cruise business is back.

That's not to suggest there's no risk here. Although the pandemic's impact may be waning, economic weakness may be brewing. Cruise bookings can be canceled, and Royal Caribbean's profits are still paper-thin. An unexpected swell of expenses could turn into as much of a problem as drying-up demand.

From a risk-versus-reward perspective, though, Royal Caribbean stock's rally doesn't come as a complete surprise.

2. Gilead Sciences

It's been a great past few months for biopharma players, and Gilead Sciences (GILD 3.18%) is no exception. Shares are up nearly 50% from March's low, and higher by 26% just since the middle of last month.

The bullishness, however, isn't being fueled by the company's usual HIV and hepatitis juggernauts like Biktarvy and Sofosbuvir, respectively. This strength instead stems from Gilead's surprising success on the oncology front. Sales of its cancer-fighting drugs like Trodelvy and Yescarta nearly doubled last quarter, prompting a slew of upgrades for the stock.

Truist analyst Robyn Karnauskas, for instance, lifted her rating on Gilead to a buy while raising her price target on the stock from $76 to $91. Although Karnauskas concedes it could take a while for the company's current cancer portfolio to get there, she believes Gilead Sciences' oncology drugs could eventually drive as much as $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

It's an encouraging development for investors worrying it would be tough for the company to replace its now-slowing sales of COVID-19 treatment Veklury, known better as Remdesivir.

The sheer size and scope of the rally likely leaves shares a bit vulnerable to some near-term profit taking. Any slump is arguably an entry opportunity for long-term investors, though. Gilead is one of the pharma industry's most proven names, even if the stock runs into the occasional cyclical headwind. Its HIV and hepatitis treatment portfolios are just too well entrenched.

3. The TJX Companies

Finally, add The TJX Companies (TJX 0.57%) to your list of stocks that are rallying despite the market's overall lethargy. Shares are more than 30% higher since September, reaching a record high recently and putting them back in the black for the year.

If you're not familiar, TJX Companies is parent to several off-price retailers. Its flagship chain of stores is T.J. Maxx, but it also owns Marshalls, HomeSense, Sierra, and others.

The entire industry is in the midst some favorable conditions. That's because after being effectively kept at home for months thanks to the pandemic, consumers are looking to do some shopping. Most consumers are also feeling the stinging effect of steep inflation, however, so they're cost-conscious as well.

Perhaps more than anything, though, with most department stores struggling to clear out inventory backups that first materialized in the throes of the pandemic, off-price retailers are able to buy highly marketable goods for little more than a song.

As CEO Ernie Herrman explained during Q3's conference call, "The marketplace is absolutely loaded with quality branded merchandise across good, better, and best brands." He added, "Importantly, this has set us up very well to offer an excellent assortment of branded gifts this holiday season that we believe will excite and inspire our shoppers."

It's not clear how long these ideal conditions might last. Don't dismiss the notion, however, that value is the new norm even when money isn't quite as tight. Consumers of every sort are rethinking how they spend their money, doing things they never would have done just a few years back.

Market researcher FloorFound reports almost nine out of 10 U.S. consumers earning more than $175,000 per year now say they've purchased a secondhand item from an organized reseller, while Walmart CFO John David Rainey stated the bulk of its grocery market share gains achieved in the second and third quarters of the year came from households earning in excess of $100,000 per year.