In Waiting for Godot -- a strange, but amusing play by Samuel Beckett -- two characters spend all of their time waiting around in vain for someone named Godot to arrive. Similarly, it seemed like a lot of investors spent 2012 waiting around in vain for a market correction that never quite materialized.
Despite all of the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Europe, China, chronic unemployment, and various other maladies, the S&P 500 provided a total return of 16% for the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average delivered a total return of 10.24%. Those investors who spent 2012 waiting for the other shoe to drop witnessed instead one of the best years of the last decade.
Predicting where the market will end up in any given year is, of course, a pretty futile exercise. As Warren Buffett once remarked, "the only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune tellers look good."
Despite Buffett's wise advice, it is still helpful to take a closer look at those companies and sectors that performed well over the past year in order to discover ongoing trends that may continue to reward investors in 2013 and beyond. With that in mind, we've listed the top 10 performing stocks of 2012 in the embedded slidedeck below.
One of the biggest trends of 2012 was the fledgling recovery in the housing market. Four of the top 10 stocks -- Lumber Liquidators (NYSE:LL), PulteGroup (NYSE:PHM), USG Corp. (NYSE:USG), and Radian Group (NYSE:RDN) -- saw their shares rise as a result of the rebound in the housing sector.
Another big trend in 2012 was the remarkable increase in demand for 3-D printing solutions. 2012 was the year, according to Motley Fool analyst Anders Bylund, when 3-D printing systems "moved from science-fiction fantasies to mainstream reality." Two 3-D printing companies -- 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) -- benefited tremendously as a result. 3D Systems was almost a four-bagger for investors in 2012, while Stratasys was just shy of a triple.
To see all of the top 10 performing stocks of 2012, just click the arrows within the embedded slideshow below. Alternatively, you can view all of the companies by clicking the link below the slideshow.
Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner's boundless enthusiasm for 3-D printing resulted in impressive gains for members of his investing services over the past year. He selected 3D Systems for his Stock Advisor service, and recommended Stratasys for his Rule Breakers service. He still believes these two companies will perform well going forward.
In both services, David has managed to trounce the market by always being on the lookout for revolutionary stocks and recommending them before Wall Street catches on to their disruptive potential. If you're interested in how David picks his winners, click here to get instant access to a personal tour behind David's Supernova service.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the 2012 returns for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The figures have been corrected.