Traders work in a booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The year 2012 reached its halfway point over the past weekend, which makes this a good time to look back at how the markets and various investments have been doing. Despite an awful lot of volatility — the S&P 500 shot upward by 12 percent in the first quarter, but dropped by 5 percent in the second quarter — the overall picture remains pretty good.

On the other hand, we were in a similar position at the halfway point of 2011. Here’s what we’ve seen so far this year from the three major stock indexes, compared to what we saw last year:

  • The S&P 500 finished the first half of 2012 up a solid 6.9 percent. But it was also up 5.4 percent through the first half of 2011, before losing 4.7 percent in the second half of the year.
  • The Dow Jones industrial average is up a more modest 3.8 percent this year. But it was up 8.7 percent in the first half of last year as well, before dropping 2.9 percent in the second half.
  • The Nasdaq has been the strongest of the major indexes, rising 11.4 percent through the first half of this year. But it too rose solidly in the first half of 2011, gaining 6.1 percent before giving it all back in the second half.

With the indexes up solidly so far this year, there has been no shortage of winners in the equity markets, although the biggest winners are often those on the rebound from big drops the previous year. These are the five stocks in the S&P 500 that have gained the most this year:

  1. Sears, up 86 percent, after losing 38 percent in 2011.
  2. TripAdvisor, up 80 percent. It wasn’t even around for most of 2011, having been spun off in December from…
  3. Expedia, up 67 percent, after losing 41 percent in 2011, but a key catalyst for that drop was its spinoff of TripAdvisor.
  4. Pulte Group, up 66 percent, after losing 13 percent in 2011.
  5. Regions Financial, up 56 percent, after losing 38 percent.

None of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average have reached those lofty heights, but several of them have posted strong gains. On the other hand, most of its big winners aren’t on the rebound, like so many of the most impressive S&P stocks are. Here are the top five Dow stocks for the first half of 2012:

  1. Bank of America, up 45 percent, after losing 57 percent in 2011.
  2. Disney, up 29 percent, after being flat in 2011.
  3. Home Depot, up 26 percent, after gaining 20 percent in 2011.
  4. American Express, up 23 percent, after gaining 13 percent in 2011.
  5. AT&T, up 17 percent, after gaining 3 percent in 2011.

Stepping back to look at the bigger pictures, here are the year-to-date returns for various stock sectors — both winners and losers — as calculated by Morningstar:

Health, up 17.1 percent

Consumer Cyclicals, up 14.0 percent

Financial, up 13.3 percent

Technology, up 11.3 percent

Consumer Defensive, up 10.6 percent

Industrials, up 8.0 percent

Communications, up 7.9 percent

Utilities, up 5.4 percent

Natural Resources, down 1.9 percent

Energy, down 3.47 percent

Precious Metals, down 11.2 percent

It’s been a half-year of solid growth for just about all of the biggest American mutual funds as well. Here are the top ten performers among the 100 largest mutual funds for first half of 2012, according to Lipper:

  1. PowerShares QQQ Trust Series 1, up 15.3 percent
  2. Vanguard REIT Index ETF, up 14.8 percent
  3. T. Rowe Price Growth Stock, up 13.3 percent
  4. Fidelity Growth Company, up 13.2 percent
  5. T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth, up 12.3 percent
  6. Fidelity Contrafund, up 10.9 percent
  7. Harbor Capital Appreciation Institutional, up 10.9 percent
  8. Vanguard Growth Index ETF, 10.8 percent
  9. Fidelity Advisor New Insight Institutional, up 10.7 percent
  10. Fidelity Blue Chip Growth, up 10.6 percent

And finally, from the wild and wacky world of ETFs, here are the top-performing ETFs from the first half of 2012, according to IndexUniverse.com:

  1. iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction, up 41.9 percent
  2. First Trust NYSE Arca Biotechnology, up 34.1 percent
  3. SPDR S&P Biotech, up 33.2 percent
  4. Market Vectors Egypt, up 32.9 percent
  5. iShares MSCI Turkey Investable Market, up 29.8 percent
  6. Market Vectors Biotech, up 29.4 percent
  7. iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market, up 27. 6 percent
  8. Market Vectors Vietnam, up 26.2 percent
  9. SPDR S&P Homebuilders, up 25.7 percent
  10. iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology, up 24.8 percent

Let’s hope the second half of 2012 brings us even more winners on that level.

For more from Tom Nawrocki, see:

Problems in the Fund Business

Rise of the Mega-Caps

The Fallout from Europe