Here's a fun fact: The stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 (SPX), had its strongest performance this year since the Wolf of Wall Street roamed lower Manhattan.
The broad market gauge has gained 29.6% in 2013, its biggest jump since 1997 -- the year before Jordan Belfort, the hard-partying founder of brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, was indicted for securities fraud and money laundering.
Belfort, who served nearly two years in prison for his schemes, was the inspiration for Martin Scorsese's new film about Wall Street excess.
The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) had its best year since 1998. The blue chip index gained 26.5% this year, hitting 52 all-time highs along the way. And the Nasdaq (COMP) surged 38%, marking its best year since 2009.
The big winners this year were last year's dogs. Netflix (NFLX), a stock that took a beating in 2012, surged nearly 300%, making it the top performer in the S&P 500. Another company that many left for dead, BestBuy (BBY), came roaring back to life. The stock more than doubled in 2013.
Of course, there were some stinkers too. J.C. Penney (JCP) was the worst performing stock in the S&P 500 until it was booted from the index in November. The stock fell 54% this year.
Officially, the worst performing S&P 500 stock was Newmont Mining (NEM), which sank 50%. The gold mining company was hit by the bursting of a bubble in the gold market. Gold prices fell nearly 30%, their biggest drop since 1981 and the first annual decline for the precious metal since 2000.
Much of the money fleeing the gold market may have found its way into stocks.
Investors put $348.63 billion into stock-based mutual funds and exchange traded funds in 2013, according to data from TrimTabs. That's the largest ever annual inflow and comes after several years of investors pulling money out of these funds.
While investors were making it rain in the stock market, they were running away from bonds.
Investors pulled out $72 billion from bond mutual funds this year through the first week of December, according to TrimTabs.
That's the first time in nearly a decade that investors have taken more money out of bond funds than they've put in -- and it tops the previous record from 1994, when investors withdrew almost $63 billion.
Despite the magnitude of this year's gains, there has been virtually no volatility in stocks. There were only three days when the Dow rose more than 1.5%, according to Schaeffer's Investment Research. In 2012, there were 14.
"I don't know if boring is the right word for a bull market, but we haven't had a lot of fireworks this year," said Ryan Detrick, chief technical strategist at Schaeffer's.
The smooth sailing and record highs helped drive a spike in initial public offerings. In 2013, a total of 222 companies went public in deals that raised nearly $55 billion.
Another sign of the almost universally bullish sentiment, CNNMoney's Fear & Greed index was above the level signaling greed or extreme greed 60% of the time in 2013.
Had a cordial dinner with Tim last night. We pushed hard for a 150 billion buyback. We decided to continue dialogue in about three weeks.—
Carl Icahn (@Carl_C_Icahn) October 01, 2013
So, where does the market go from here? For now, most experts say stocks can go even higher, assuming the economy continues to improve and corporate profits keep rising.
Predicting the future is a tricky business, however.
Back in January, analysts surveyed by CNNMoney expected the S&P 500 would rise 4.5% in 2013 to end at 1,490. That was an understatement.
But stocks are certainly not as cheap as they were a year ago.
With stock prices at all-time highs, market valuations have gone from what is considered cheap to slightly expensive. The S&P 500 currently trades at nearly 15 times next year's earnings estimates, up from about 12 at the beginning of 2013.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.
Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman is having a rough year. But don't shed too many tears for him ... not that you probably would anyway, given that he's a billionaire and all.
Yes, Ackman's Herbalife (HLF) MOREPaul R. La Monica - Aug 13, 2013 12:57 PM ET
This article was published in the July issue of Money magazine.
You may think it's crazy to buy shares of companies that have a lot of people betting against them. Yet isn't that the very essence of contrarian investing?
Several stocks that have been recent targets of short-sellers -- investors who borrow shares and sell them, hoping to buy them back later at lower prices -- have been some of Wall Street's big winners MOREPaul R. La Monica - Jun 19, 2013 9:20 AM ET
KPMG has resigned as auditor of Herbalife and Skechers after learning that a senior partner in its Los Angeles office had allegedly provided insider information about the companies to an outside party, who traded on the information.
KPMG declined to comment about the companies' identities. Both Herbalife and Skechers confirmed the news in statements.
Shares of Herbalife (HLF), which had been halted since just before the market opened, slid MOREHibah Yousuf - Apr 9, 2013 3:45 PM ET
Shares of Herbalife jumped Thursday after the nutritional supplement company said billionaire investor Carl Icahn will be allowed to nominate two board members.
Herbalife (HLF) shares ended the day up 7%. The stock was briefly halted on the news.
Under the terms of a deal with Icahn's holding company, Herbalife agreed to have Icahn nominate two members to the company's board, which will grow to 11 directors. The new board members will MOREBen Rooney - Feb 28, 2013 4:39 PM ET
JC Penney's latest tangle has many folks speculating about whether there's another hedge fund battle brewing.
The retailer said it received a Notice of Default from law firm Brown Rudnick, which claims to represent an "ad hoc" group who hold more than 50% of JC Penney's bonds due in 2037.
JC Penney says the notice is "utterly without merit" but it's raised speculation as to who is behind this so-called ad hoc MORECatherine Tymkiw - Feb 5, 2013 12:33 PM ET
Shares of Herbalife (HLF) bounce back from a sharp drop Monday morning after the New York Post reported that the company is the subject of a federal investigation. Herbalife's stock fell nearly 13% shortly after the open but finished the day up more than 1%.
The investigation was revealed after the Federal Trade Commission disclosed a list of 192 complaints against Herbalife from the past seven years in response to a Freedom of Information Law request MOREHibah Yousuf - Feb 4, 2013 4:01 PM ET
Super Carl? Activist Carl Icahn has been racking up some pretty big wins in the past few weeks. Now, add Chesapeake Energy (CHK) to that list.
Chesapeake Energy's stock is up more than 6% Wednesday, following the company's announcement that its controversial CEO and founder Aubrey McClendon would step down immediately and retire on April 1, 2013.
Icahn was a key force behind McClendon's ouster. Early last year, investors discovered that MOREMaureen Farrell - Jan 30, 2013 12:43 PM ET
Hedge fund titans Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn squared off over Herbalife (HLF) Friday afternoon. And it was like a scene from a kindergarten playground.
For 30 minutes, the two lobbed insults at each other on CNBC as Ackman's bet on Herbalife's stock falling to zero drew the ire (and a litany of insults) from Icahn.
After listening to the confrontation, the public now knows a few things about these two.
For one, MOREMaureen Farrell - Jan 25, 2013 3:30 PM ET
It's Herbalife's turn.
As hedge fund titans Bill Ackman and Dan Loeb square off over the company's sales practices, the company's top executives played defense.
"We are confident that you will see that we're a legitimate company with legitimate customers," Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson told investors and analysts gathered at the Four Seasons in midtown Manhattan Thursday. Johnson called the opportunity to address the crowd "unusual but incredible."
Ackman, who runs Pershing MOREMaureen Farrell - Jan 10, 2013 10:31 AM ET
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