Deep Dive: These are the best-performing S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 stocks of 2021

United States

(Updated as of the market close on Dec. 31.)

The performance of the stock market in 2021 was nothing short of remarkable, surprising many investors after the dramatic crash-and-recovery cycle of 2020.

A continuing recovery for the world economy meant increased demand and shortages in various industries, including semiconductors and energy. Some of the best-performing stocks were oil and gas producers, as the price of West Texas Crude oil CL00 rose 55%.

The following are lists of the best-performing stocks among the benchmark S&P 500 index SPX, the the S&P 400 Mid Cap Index MID, the S&P Small Cap 600 Index SML and the Nasdaq-100 Index NDX. Then there’s a list showing how all 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA have performed in 2021.

All performance figures in this article include reinvested dividends. For starters, here’s a chart showing total returns for all the indexes in 2021:


The S&P 500 had the top spot with a 28.7% return for 2021, although it had pulled back from its high on Nov. 9, when it was up 32% for the year.

Best-performing S&P 500 stocks of 2021

The S&P 500 is weighted by market capitalization, which means the largest five companies — Apple Inc. AAPL, Microsoft Corp. MSFT, Inc. AMZN, Alphabet Inc GOOGL GOOG and Tesla Inc. TSLA — made up 23% of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF SPY as of the close on Dec. 31.

The gains in 2021 were broad, with 88% of the S&P 500 showing positive returns. Here are its 20 best performers in 2021:

Company Ticker Industry Total Return – 2021
Devon Energy Corp. DVN Oil & Gas Production 196.1%
Marathon Oil Corp. MRO Oil & Gas Production 149.7%
Moderna Inc. MRNA Biotechnology 143.1%
Fortinet Inc. FTNT Computer Communications 142.0%
Signature Bank SBNY Regional Banks 141.5%
Ford Motor Co. F Motor Vehicles 137.5%
Bath & Body Works Inc. BBWI Retail 133.7%
Diamondback Energy Inc. FANG Oil & Gas Production 127.4%
Nvidia Corp. NVDA Semiconductors 125.5%
Nucor Corp. NUE Steel 118.4%
Gartner Inc. IT Internet Software, Services 108.7%
Extra Space Storage Inc. EXR Real Estate Investment Trusts 101.0%
Arista Networks Inc. ANET Computer Communications 97.9%
Simon Property Group Inc. SPG Real Estate Investment Trusts 95.8%
APA Corp. APA Integrated Oil 90.8%
EOG Resources Inc. EOG Oil & Gas Production 88.7%
Iron Mountain Inc. IRM Real Estate Investment Trusts 87.8%
Seagate Technology Holdings PLC STX Computer Peripherals 87.6%
CF Industries Holdings Inc. CF Chemicals 87.1%
ConocoPhillips COP Oil & Gas Production 86.7%
Source: FactSet

You can click the tickers for more about each company. Click here for Tomi Kilgore’s detailed guide to the wealth of information for free on the MarketWatch quote page.

To make any of the lists, a stock had to be traded publicly for all of 2021.

Among the top 20 performers in the S&P 500, six were oil producers.

Ford Motor Co. F was up 137.5%, ranking sixth on the list, with a low valuation to expected earnings helping justify investors’ approval of at the early stage of its switch to electric cars. Ford’s rival General Motors Co. GM didn’t make the list, as its stock was up “only” 40.8% in 2021 (ranking 160th among the S&P 500), while shares of Tesla were up 49.8% for 2021 following their 743% increase in 2020.

Read: Ford Is More Valuable Than GM for the First Time Since 2016

Best-performing midcap stocks

Remember the meme stocks? Of course you do. GameStop Corp GME. led this craze, as traders banded together through the wallstreetbets Reddit channel in early 2021 to bid up the prices of heavily shorted stocks.

Through Jan. 27, shares of GameStop were up 1,744.5% for 2021. Some traders who got in late were burned, as the stock took a dive through Feb. 22. But through Dec. 31, it was up 687.6% for the year, leading this list of the top 20 performers in the S&P 400 Mid Cap Index:

Company Ticker Industry Total Return – 2021
GameStop Corp. Class A GME Electronics, Appliance Stores 687.6%
Avis Budget Group Inc. CAR Finance, Rental, Leasing 456.0%
Synaptics Inc. SYNA Semiconductors 200.3%
SiTime Corp. SITM Semiconductors 161.4%
Alcoa Corp. AA Aluminum 159.0%
Olin Corp. OLN Industrial Specialties 138.5%
Macy’s Inc. M Department Stores 135.7%
Navient Corp. NAVI Finance, Rental, Leasing 124.0%
Murphy Oil Corp. MUR Oil & Gas Production 121.3%
Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. DKS Specialty Stores 116.4%
Louisiana-Pacific Corp. LPX Forest Products 113.3%
Builders FirstSource Inc. BLDR Building Products 110.0%
Crocs Inc. CROX Apparel/Footwear 104.6%
Tenet Healthcare Corp. THC Hospital, Nursing Management 104.6%
Targa Resources Corp. TRGP Oil Refining/ Marketing 100.1%
Life Storage Inc. LSI Real Estate Investment Trusts 98.5%
National Storage Affiliates Trust NSA Real Estate Investment Trusts 98.0%
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. GT Automotive Aftermarket 95.4%
American Financial Group Inc. AFG Property/ Casualty Insurance 94.8%
Teradata Corp. TDC Software 89.0%
Source: FactSet
Small-cap stocks

A broad small-cap index, such as the Russell 2000 RUT, includes companies that haven’t yet turned profits and even some “pre-revenue” companies counting positive outcomes for binary events, such as regulatory approval of medication.

This list of the year’s 20 best-performing small-cap stocks instead relies on the S&P 600 Small Cap Index, which has a tougher selection criteria for initial inclusion. That includes positive earnings for the most recent quarter and for the sum of the most recent four quarters.

Company Ticker Industry Total Return – 2021
Veritiv Corp. VRTV Wholesale Distributors 490%
SM Energy Co. SM Oil & Gas Production 382%
Apollo Medical Holdings Inc. AMEH Services to the Health Industry 302%
Customers Bancorp Inc. CUBI Regional Banks 260%
Callon Petroleum Co. CPE Oil & Gas Production 259%
TimkenSteel Corp. TMST Steel 253%
Chico’s FAS Inc. CHS Apparel, Footwear Retail 238%
Signet Jewelers Ltd. SIG Specialty Stores 221%
Consol Energy Inc. CEIX Coal 215%
Cross Country Healthcare Inc. CCRN Personnel Services 213%
Matador Resources Co. MTDR Oil & Gas Production 207%
United Natural Foods Inc. UNFI Food Distributors 207%
Laredo Petroleum Inc. LPI Oil & Gas Production 205%
Thryv Holdings Inc. THRY Advertising, Marketing Services 205%
Boot Barn Holdings Inc. BOOT Apparel, Footwear Retail 184%
ArcBest Corp. ARCB Trucking 182%
Donnelley Financial Solutions Inc. DFIN Software 178%
Perficient Inc. PRFT Personnel Services 171%
Range Resources Corp. RRC Oil & Gas Production 166%
Ranger Oil Corp. Class A RRC Oil & Gas Production 165%
Source: FactSet
Turning more to tech: Nasdaq-100

The Nadaq-100 Index includes the largest 100 non-financial stocks by market cap in the full Nasdaq Composite Index COMP. It includes Chinese companies that aren’t included in the S&P 500.

Here are the top 20 performers among the Nasdaq-100 in 2021:

Company Ticker Industry Total Return – 2021
Lucid Group Inc. LCID Motor Vehicles 280%
Moderna Inc. MRNA Biotechnology 143%
Fortinet Inc. FTNT Computer Communications 142%
Nvidia Corp. NVDA Semiconductors 125%
Marvell Technology Inc. MRVL Semiconductors 85%
Applied Materials Inc. AMAT Industrial Machinery 84%
Datadog Inc Class A DDOG Software 81%
Intuit Inc. INTU Software 70%
KLA Corp. KLAC Semiconductors 68%
Alphabet Inc. Class A GOOGL Internet Software, Services 65%
Atlassian Corp. PLC Class A TEAM Software 63%
Zscaler Inc. ZS Software 61%
Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD Semiconductors 57%
Palo Alto Networks Inc. PANW Computer Communications 57%
Broadcom Inc. AVGO Semiconductors 56%
O’Reilly Automotive Inc. ORLY Specialty Stores 56%
Lam Research Corp. LRCX Electronic Production Equipment 54%
Microsoft Corp. MSFT Software 52%
Costco Wholesale Corp. COST Department Stores 52%
Paychex Inc. PAYX Data Processing Services 50%
Source: FactSet
The Dow 30

The Dow Jones Industrial Average brought up the rear in the chart at the top of this article. Home Depot Inc. HD took the top stop in the Dow, with a 59.5% return for 2021, while Walt Disney Co. DIS was the worst performer, with a 14.5% decline:

Company Ticker Industry Total Return – 2021
Home Depot Inc. HD Home Improvement Chains 59.5%
Microsoft Corp. MSFT Software 52.5%
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS Investment Banks, Brokers 47.6%
Chevron Corp. CVX Integrated Oil 46.3%
Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO Information Technology Services 45.8%
UnitedHealth Group Inc. UNH Managed Health Care 45.2%
American Express Co. AXP Finance, Rental, Leasing 36.9%
Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA Drugstore Chains 35.8%
Apple Inc. AAPL Telecommunications Equipment 34.6%
McDonald’s Corp. MCD Restaurants 27.8%
JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM Banks 27.7%
Procter & Gamble Co. PG Household, Personal Care 20.5%
Nike Inc. Class B NKE Apparel, Footwear 18.7%
International Business Machines Corp. IBM Information Technology Services 16.8%
Caterpillar Inc. CAT Trucks, Construction, Farm Machinery 16.0% Inc. CRM Software 14.2%
Travelers Companies Inc. TRV Multi-Line Insurance 14.0%
Johnson & Johnson JNJ Pharmaceuticals 11.4%
Coca-Cola Co. KO Beverages: Non-Alcoholic 11.4%
Dow Inc. DOW Chemicals 6.9%
Intel Corp. INTC Semiconductors 6.0%
3M Co. MMM Industrial Conglomerates 4.9%
Walmart Inc. WMT Food Retail 2.0%
Merck & Co. Inc. MRK Pharmaceuticals 1.8%
Amgen Inc. AMGN Biotechnology 0.9%
Honeywell International Inc. HON Industrial Conglomerates -0.3%
Visa Inc. Class A V Finance, Rental, Leasing -0.3%
Boeing Co. BA Aerospace & Defense -6.0%
Verizon Communications Inc. VZ Telecommunications -7.5%
Walt Disney Co. DIS Cable, Satellite TV -14.5%
Source: FactSet

More year-end stock-market coverage:

  • Look for the best dividend-paying stocks to stay in the money in 2022 and beyond
  • These stocks are down at least 20% from 2021 highs, but Wall Street sees them gaining as much as 87% in 2022