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4 shares crushing the S&P/ASX 200

It was this time last year when investors were cheering the S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX:XJO) as it was flirting with the 6,000 point level.

It has been pretty much downhill since then and unfortunately for investors, those cheers have now been replaced with screams with the index gradually falling back below 5,000 points.

While it can be easy to focus on the negatives, I find it far more interesting to look at the positives. In fact, there are a large number of stocks that are trading significantly higher today than they were this time last year.

Here are four stocks that have managed to defy the broader market’s weakness and deliver great returns for shareholders:

Sydney Airport Holdings Ltd (ASX: SYD)

Shares of Sydney Airport are trading more than 27% higher since April 2015 and a 25.5 cent per share payout has been the cherry on top for shareholders. The strong share price performance has been driven primarily by strong growth in passenger numbers from both inbound and outbound passengers. The airport’s defensive earnings profile has also attracted strong investor support during a period of especially high volatility in equity markets. Unlike other high-yielding stocks, Sydney Airport has remained well supported and this highlights the fact that investors expect earnings to continue to grow strongly over the medium term.

Newcrest Mining Limited (ASX: NCM)

The past 12 months has been a welcome change for Newcrest shareholders with the shares gaining nearly 23% during that time. This follows a difficult period for the company where a disastrous acquisition, a higher Australian dollar and uncontrollable production costs severely hampered the gold producer’s profitability. Since then, the Australian dollar has fallen significantly, the spot gold price has stabilised and Newcrest has regained some control over its cost base. Despite this, Newcrest still remains at the mercy of the gold price and currently carries more than USD $2.6 billion worth of debt on its balance sheet. I believe investors looking for exposure to Australian gold producers should consider Northern Star Resources Ltd (ASX: NST) as it is one of the lowest cost producers and is operated by a disciplined management team.

Cochlear Limited (ASX: COH)

Shareholders of Cochlear have received $2.10 per share in dividends along with a generous 10.6% increase in the share price over the past 12 months. The bionic ear maker has enjoyed strong investor support as a result of the falling Australian dollar and successful launches of new implants and processor upgrades that are driving double-digit sales growth. Interestingly, Cochlear has now established a growing recipient customer base of more than 440,000 people that it can use to provide further services and upgrades to. This is a truly valuable asset as many of its recipients will become lifelong customers. The shares don’t come cheap however, with the stock now trading on an price-to-earnings multiple of more than 33.

Altium Limited (ASX: ALU)

Altium has been a favourite stock here at the Motley Fool and its share price performance over the past 12 months has certainly not disappointed. Along with dividends paid worth 18 cents per share, the shares have also gained more than 34% from this time last year. The company provides PC-based electronics design software for engineers that enables them to design and create printed circuit boards (PCB). This is a fast-growing field in the technology sector and one where demand is expected to grow strongly over the medium term as more devices become inter-connected.

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Motley Fool contributor Christopher Georges has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of Altium. 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. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.