25 Best S&P 500 Stocks of the Pandemic Bull Market

Work-from-home stocks and home-improvement retailers might have been the stars of the COVID bull's first half, but they didn't finish on top.

best stocks of pandemic bull market
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The S&P 500's close below 3,837.25 on June 13 didn't just signal the birth of a new bear market – it also marked the death of the most recent bull market.

And what a bull it was.

But before we look back at the best S&P 500 stocks of the pandemic bull market (see the table below), let's take a moment to acknowledge this change in the cycle.

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Active investors grappling with the official onset of a bear market might want to review the best stocks to buy for 2022, which are designed to account for a range of outcomes through year-end and beyond. Those same active investors also might want to consider adding names that tend to hold up well in down markets, such as the best stocks to buy for a bear market.

As for our now-defunct bull market, recall how improbable it seemed at the time. When COVID-19 first swept across the globe in early 2020, the S&P 500 lost more than a third of its value in little more than a month. And when the market did at last mercifully bottom on March 23, few at the time could guess that it was about to generate extended and stunning returns.

For the record, the pandemic bull market began on March 23, 2020, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, and it ended on Jan. 3, 2022, which was the S&P 500's most recent – not to mention record – closing high.

Thus, our late, lamented bull market lived for 21.4 months – a period in which the S&P 500 increased 114.4% on a price basis and 120.4% on a total return basis (price appreciation plus dividends).

S&P 500 performance through bull market

(Image credit: YCharts)

But as remunerative as the pandemic bull proved to be, it was truly distinguished by the rapidity of its gains.

Since World War II, there have been seven bull markets in which the S&P 500 increased at least 100%, says Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial. The pandemic bull market holds the record for doubling in the shortest amount of time (or not quite 17 months), the strategist notes.

The Best S&P 500 Stocks of the Bull Market

Interestingly, most of the stocks that were the pandemic bull market's biggest early winners – work-from-home darlings, home improvement retailers, consumer staples giants – faded once COVID-19 began to release its grip.

As the table below shows, energy sector names and pandemic-recovery plays in the gaming industry make numerous appearances among the best S&P 500 stocks of the bull market. The financial sector is also amply represented.

And as for top-performer Tesla (TSLA, $647.21)? Remember that the bull market ended on Jan. 3. Shares in Elon Musk's electric vehicle company have lost more than 45% of their value ever since.

best stocks of the pandemic bull market

(Image credit: S&P Global Market Intelligence)
Dan Burrows
Senior Investing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.

A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.

Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.

In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics, demographics, real estate, cost of living indexes and more.

Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.

Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.