Third quarter was brutal. But these stocks won

Can stocks rebound from dismal quarter?
Can stocks rebound from dismal quarter?

Stocks were up Wednesday. Yippee!? Not exactly.

It's hard for investors to be in a cheerful mood -- unless bidding good riddance to a dismal third quarter counts as celebration.

This was the worst three-month period for stocks since the third quarter of 2011. There are legitimate fears that the huge rally which began in March 2009 is finally coming to a close.

But at the risk of sounding like a market Pollyanna, there's always a bull market somewhere.

More than three dozen companies in the S&P 500 posted double-digit percentage gains during the third quarter.

Pigs can fly

Here's one thing bulls and bears can probably agree on -- they like pigs.

Chipotle (CMG) was a market darling in the third quarter, gaining nearly 20%. Strong earnings in July helped.

So did the return of its beloved carnitas to all its stores earlier this month.

Related: The carnitas crisis is over

Investors love profits

Google (GOOGL) also was up nearly 20% in the quarter, even as shares of rivals Apple (AAPL) and Yahoo (YHOO) fell. Google outperformed Facebook (FB) too.

The company reported strong earnings in July, reassuring investors who had started to worry that its best days are behind it. Profits blew away forecasts, led by healthy growth at YouTube and Google's growing mobile ad operations.

Investors also cheered Google's creation of Alphabet -- a new organizational structure that should hopefully provide more clarity about Google's various non-core businesses, such as health care technology and driverless cars.

Related: CNNMoney's Fear & Greed Index still shows Extreme Fear

Amazon (AMZN) avoided the market carnage as well, also ending the third quarter with a nearly 20% gain.

Solid earnings (an actual profit!) was a big driver of the stock in the past three months.

Amazon's Prime Day event in July -- massive deals for the subscribers to its yearly service -- was also a success. Even though many people complained on social media about the types of products being sold, Amazon still reported huge sales from the promotion.

Related: Meet Alphabet -- Google's new parent company

It's interesting that Chipotle, Google and Amazon all did well given that they are pricey stocks on an absolute basis. (Remember that a stock's true value is based on its earnings potential.)

One share of Amazon costs more than $500. A Google share will put you back about $635. And you need at least seven Benjamins and a Hamilton to afford just one share of Chipotle.

So the fact that these stocks thrived in the third quarter shows that investors aren't suffering from sticker shock. They'll gladly pay up for quality.

Mergers with benefits

The biggest winners in the quarter were companies that announced they were being acquired in the past three months, such as utilities Teco (TE) and AGL Resources (GAS), Cablevision (CVC) and insurer Chubb (CB).

Brewer Molson Coors (TAP) was also up sharply due to the wave of mergers and acquisitions ... albeit indirectly.

With Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) expected to soon launch a formal takeover of SABMille (SBMRY)r, investors are speculating that this could be good news for Molson Coors since it has a joint venture with SABMiller in the United States.

Related: Crack open a cold one. Merger mania is back!

But there were plenty of well-known stocks not involved in deals that surged this summer too.

The best of the rest

Want more proof that video games are big business? Activision Blizzard (ATVI) gained more than 25% during the quarter. It has a monster of a hit with its new "Destiny: The Taken King" game.

Best Buy (BBY) continued to show that its turnaround is for real. The electronics retailer's stock benefited from new products from Apple and Samsung. Its stock was up 13% in the quarter.

Athletic apparel is immune to market volatility apparently. Both Nike (NKE) and smaller rival Under Armour (UA) soared during the third quarter thanks to strong earnings and sales.

Related: Nike and Under Armour both score on Wall Street

Low oil prices gave a boost to several travel-related stocks. Southwest Airlines (LUV) and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) were each up more than 10%.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em? Tobacco giants Reynolds American (RAI) and Altria (MO) were also market winners in the third quarter. Steady sales growth, an increased presence in the lucrative e-cig market and big dividends were music to the ears of conservative investors shunning risk.

So there was money to be made even in this awful market -- as long as you owned the right mix of stocks.

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