In late July, The Motley Fool started our "11 O'Clock Stock" series that challenged our analysts to pick 50 stocks across 50 days. While we're only a short way into watching this group of stocks that we think will be long-term winners, many of the stocks have already seen impressive gains while others have seen setbacks.

In this column, we're going to drill into a couple of stocks outperforming, and one that's been lagging. Then we'll check in with recent news on some portfolio stocks.

2 stocks exploding
When Inside Value analyst Andy Louis-Charles selected Vistaprint (Nasdaq: VPRT) in early August, it required some serious guts. Just the week before, Vistaprint fell 36% in one day after missing revenue expectations and guiding next year's estimates lower. Looking past the short-term pains, Louis-Charles thought Vistaprint had fallen below a price that reflected its current and future earnings power, so he pulled the trigger and recommended the stock. That was a wise decision, as Vistaprint has since gone on to gain 29% while the market has moved up about 6%. While the company might have faced difficulties during the summer quarter, it remains the leader in a very fragmented online printing field and has exceptional growth qualities that should reward patient investors.

Special Ops analyst Toby Shute went digging into the oil patch this summer at a time when lingering fears over BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster continued to weigh down share prices of exploration and production (E&P) companies. From his research, Shute recommended Contango Oil & Gas (AMEX: MCF) as a solid play in the sector. As he put it, the company is effectively "bulletproof" as to the direction of commodity prices, thanks to a balance sheet that's clean of debt. As the Gulf crisis has abated and energy has rebounded, Contango's share price has flowed northward. If you're looking for a well-run small-cap energy play with a fortress-like balance sheet, it's hard to do better than Contango.

  • Click here to see Vistaprint's buy recommendation.
  • Click here  to see Contango's buy recommendation.

1 stock faltering
While Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has risen 3% since its pick in late September, the company has failed to gain traction this year, losing 16% of its value, while many of its direct competitors saw their stocks climb. The company posted strong earnings last quarter, but a healthy Windows 7 refresh cycle has done little to calm broader fears that the company's cash cow Office and Windows products are under fire. Smartphone sales should exceed total PC sales as soon as 2012. And while mobile operating systems are a different breed than Windows, they also are shifting consumer spending away from PCs, which risks slowly bleeding Microsoft dry.

Still, Microsoft keeps one of the healthiest balance sheets in the world and has returned $170 billion to shareholders in the last decade through dividend and share buybacks. Its grip on enterprise spending remains strong. The company might look about as sexy as Bill Gates in a Speedo right now, but for investors seeking safety and accelerating dividends, Microsoft fits the bill. Or, if you're leery of Microsoft's prospects going forward, consider fellow 11 O'Clock Stock buy recommendation IBM (NYSE: IBM). The company's entrenched placement as a corporate services and software provider gives it a strong advantage that should continue to deliver solid bottom-line growth in the coming years.

  • Click here  to see Microsoft's buy recommendation.

2 Stocks in focus

  • Shipper Seaspan (NYSE: SSW) encountered some choppy waters after its last quarterly earnings were released, and the stock took a dive after a consistent run-up that had continued since early July. While the market might not have been impressed, it was more of the same for Seaspan: utilization rates approaching 100% and strong revenues and cash flow. That's the kind of boring "more of the same" we love to see at the Fool. Seaspan remains in a build-out phase that should be completed in 2012, and unless the stock runs up to unreasonable levels or something drastic and unforeseen happens, Seaspan will stay in the "buy" column until then.
  • While Ultra Petroleum (NYSE: UPL) was recommended as a play for patient investors waiting for an impending supply and demand correction to bring natural gas prices higher, investors who took the advice to buy the natural gas company have been healthily rewarded with short-term gains in recent weeks. Picking the market's brain on this rise could prove pointless, as natural gas prices remain low and Ultra Petroleum's recent quarter appeared to be business as usual. However, for long-term investors looking for a well-run natural gas company with some of the lowest production costs in the industry, Ultra Petroleum still looks like a solid buy.

If you're interested in seeing more selections from our "11 O'Clock Stock" series, we've put together a special report highlighting five of our top ideas from the series -- with two extra bonus picks for free. You can get access to the report by clicking here now.

Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Vistaprint is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool has written puts on Contango Oil & Gas. Motley Fool Options has recommended writing a covered strangle on Seaspan and a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Contango Oil & Gas, IBM, Microsoft, Seaspan, Ultra Petroleum, and Vistaprint. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.