Investors were given an early Christmas present as U.S. equity markets bounced back last week. Reports from Europe continued to whipsaw global markets, but this time for the better. A successful debt auction in Spain was behind much of the week's optimism as bond buyers appeared to become more confident that the country will be able to meet its debt obligations. Meanwhile, in the U.S., economic data helped stoke the positive sentiment. Housing numbers largely came in better than expected, and initial unemployment claims continued to fall.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) jumped 3.6% during the week, while the broader Russell 3000 advanced 3.7%. With optimism spiking, the "risk on" trade was back on this week and investors rushed for sectors that would benefit from a stronger global economy.

Top 3 Performing Sectors

Russell 3000 Sector

Weekly Price Change

Month-to-Date Price Change

Energy 5.6% (0%)
Financials 4.6% 3.1%
Industrials 4.3% 2.1%

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Weekly price change is Dec. 16-Dec. 23. Monthly price change is Nov. 30-Dec. 23.

Doing its part to boost the financial sector was Delaware-based insurer Delphi Financial Group (NYSE: DFG). On Wednesday, Delphi announced that it is being acquired by Japan's Tokio Marine for $43.88 per class-A share. The deal also includes a $1.00 special dividend for shareholders.

Also skyrocketing after an announced deal was Winn-Dixie (Nasdaq: WINN), which shot up 70% after it announced that it's merging with BI-LO. Under the terms of the deal, Winn-Dixie shareholders will be given $9.50 in cash in exchange for their shares. While investors who bought in at the recently depressed prices might be happy with the BI-LO deal, at least one group of shareholders is clearly upset by the proposal and has sued to block the deal.

Top 3 Performing Russell 3000 Companies


Weekly Price Change

Delphi Financial 75.2%
Winn-Dixie 72.5%
Delcath Systems (Nasdsaq: DCTH) 50.8%

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Weekly price change is Dec. 16-Dec. 23.

Also among the week's top performers were SandRidge Energy (NYSE: SD) and VirnetX Holding (AMEX: VHC). SandRidge shot up after announcing that it's selling 363,636 acres in Oklahoma's Mississippian basin to Spain's Repsol for $250 million plus the assumption of capital spending. The value of the deal was more than Wall Street had anticipated and gives SandRidge funding that it desperately needed. SandRidge's stock gained 27% for the week.

VirnetX, meanwhile, got some good news from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO declined to re-examine the company's '180 patent for secure network communications. The decision comes after Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) had requested a re-examination, and it puts VirnetX in a good position in its patent dispute against Cisco and fellow tech giant Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL).

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