Now, now. Don't exaggerate. It wasn't all bad news for investors this past year.

You didn't have to short stocks to make money, as there are plenty of companies that are closing out 2008 higher than they started. Granted, when the S&P 500 is off by roughly 40%, we're talking about a very shallow pool of winners. I didn't say it would be easy to make money on the long side; just possible.

Let's go over several of the names that aren't smarting all over this year.



Gain (YTD)

Marvel (NYSE:MVL)








Hasbro (NYSE:HAS)



Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)



Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA)






Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. YTD = year-to-date.

1. Marvel Entertainment
One of this year's biggest box office hits was Iron Man, and it left no one smiling wider than Marvel. As the first production that Marvel chose to bankroll under its own label, the film's success let the world know that Marvel still has it. Marvel naturally didn't have a hand in this year's The Dark Knight, but the one-two superhero blockbusters clearly validate Marvel's turf of expertise.

Marvel is still going to be cashing in on the licensed handiwork of others, too. Rival movie studios will be paying Marvel for Spider-Man, X-Men, and Punisher sequels that are now in the works. All of these movie deals naturally lead to even more character-licensing opportunities across many different retailing channels.

China's stocks were slammed this year, but the online gaming leaders came through. Cranking out online fantasy games where hundreds of thousands of players are interacting at the same time is a booming niche in the world's most populous nation.

NetEase clearly doesn't mind, given the industry's fat margins. At a time when analysts are talking down the prospects of many Chinese growth stocks, NetEase is bucking the trend. Wall Street sees the company earning $1.87 a share in 2009, marked up from the $1.79 a share that the same analysts were expecting three months ago.

3. JetBlue
Skies have been a lot clearer for JetBlue investors lately. I singled out the value-minded airline nearly a month ago as a great way to play falling oil prices, and the stock has ascended by 33% in that time.

The company has posted few quarterly losses lately, but analysts see a profit of $0.72 a share out of JetBlue in 2009. A turnaround with a forward earnings multiple in the single digits? I like JetBlue's chances to have another up year in 2009.

4. Hasbro
Toy makers can be recession proof, as long as you're buying the right toy makers. Few have been as right as Hasbro. The company didn't fall into the trap of having to recall toxic Chinese-made toys. It played the Marvel card a year ago with the runaway success of its in-house Transformers toy line being revived on the big screen.

The end result is that Hasbro has now beaten analyst estimates in six consecutive quarters. That is more like thriving -- not just surviving -- during a recession

5. Wal-Mart
Frugality is a winning theme in 2008. Several discounters and dollar store chains are closing out the year in the black. It's only fitting that the world's largest retail chain -- which just happens to be a monster discount department store -- should close out the year in the black.

6. Panera Bread Co.
You don't need to have a dollar menu to win over hungry patrons these days. Panera's latest quarter was solid, with revenue and earnings inching 15% higher as store-level comps clocked in positive. Yes, the quick-service bakery and sandwich shop used to be a faster sprinter, but it managed to pace itself just fine during this year's marathon.

7. Netflix
Finally! A market winner that I actually own. The unlimited DVD rental model is a winner for couch potatoes, especially now. When you can get a month's worth of movies delivered to your mailbox for less than a pair of multiplex tickets (before we even get into the overpriced concessions), it's the kind of subscription-based service that consumers are unlikely to cut from their budgets as they scale back spending.

Growth may have slowed, but the fact that Netflix is taking steps in the right direction -- like most of this year's winners -- is huge at a time when so many companies are taking baby steps backward.

Other stories to read before the ball drops:

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.