Summer Tmf

Stocks didn't do well in the third quarter, as the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) dropped to levels that were more than 10% off its record closes from earlier in the year. Yet even though the vast majority of the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrials lost ground between July and September, a few standouts managed to ride successful business models and share-price bounces to gains for their shareholders. Let's look at the three Dow stocks that survived a tough summer the best and whether they can continue to outperform.

3. Home Depot, up 4.5%
The gains that Home Depot (NYSE:HD) has seen in recent years should come as no surprise to those who've watched how far the housing market has recovered. Even in the face of some economic challenges that have held back the pace of expansion in the U.S., housing continues to look strong, and the recent decisions from the Federal Reserve to hold off on interest rate hikes have only supported the outlook for a real-estate market that depends on cheap mortgage financing.

Home Depot's success goes beyond housing's recovery, though, as the company has repeatedly found ways to bolster different aspects of its business regardless of economic conditions. The company's dual strategy of wooing do-it-yourself homeowners while also catering to professional contractors has paid off well over the years, as improving economic conditions have put more homeowners in a position to pay others to do work for them. At the same time, Home Depot's cost-cutting efforts have boosted its bottom line substantially, and the retailer recently raised its outlook for 2015 for the second time this year. All told, Home Depot is firing on all cylinders, and gains could continue as long as the housing market doesn't suffer a repeat of its mid-2000s collapse.

2. McDonald's, up 4.6%
The most surprising company on this list is McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), which has struggled for years from poor sales and the harsh impact of a strong U.S. dollar. Even after another quarter of falling earnings, revenue, and comparable-restaurant sales, McDonald's investors got excited about the possibility that the fast-food giant is close to hitting bottom.

Some of the positive sentiment appears to be tied to McDonald's decision to make some of its breakfast menu items available throughout the day. Proponents of the move believe that it could bring more customers into McDonald's restaurants and also potentially lead to those customers choosing higher-margin purchases like coffee drinks and nonmeat menu items. Yet skeptics point out that the all-day breakfast menu will be limited and that McDonald's competitors are doing a better job of appealing to a broader audience. At this point, investors will need to see some follow-through from McDonald's before being certain that the increase in its stock price will be sustainable.

1. Nike, up 14%
Leading the way higher in the Dow was Nike (NYSE:NKE), with its outpaced summer gains fitting well with its fitness focus. Much of the company's gains came after announcing its fiscal first-quarter results, in which the athletic apparel giant managed to boost sales 5% and send profits higher by 23%, overcoming a nine-percentage-point headwind from the strength of the U.S. dollar. In local currency terms, Nike enjoyed big gains throughout the world, with Japan and China posting the biggest increases. Margin expansion also helped drive results, and big stock buybacks helped boost per-share metrics even more extensively.

Nike does face increasingly tough competition, but so far, that has only served to make it work harder. With a consistent ability to keep getting more profitable and building up its worldwide presence, Nike looks like a solid growth pick for the long run.

In order for the stock market to perform better, investors will count on certain companies to lead the way higher. These three stocks defied the Dow's declines with their short-term gains, and at least a couple of them look like they have the staying power to keep supporting the market in the months and years to come.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Nike. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot. 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.