The Stars of The Recession

It's only when darkness falls that the stars start to twinkle. Similarly, sometimes it takes a pitch-black economy to reveal who and what in the business firmament really shines. Although they're not likely to get their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the people, companies and places on our list have shown that they can not only survive an economic tsunami, they can surf its crest to the top.

INVESTORS
John Paulson: Paulson & Co.
John Paulson is the King Midas of the hedge-fund world. In 2008, a year in which the average fund was down by 18 percent, Paulson's funds increased by as much as 25 percent, after a smart decision to short bank stocks. That's nothing compared to his 2007 performance, though, when bets against subprime mortgages paid off--big time. His funds returned 600 percent that year, earning him a $3.7 billion payout, the industry's largest ever.
25% portfolio gain

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Universa
These days Taleb, a former Chicago options trader, is more of a public intellectual than market player. But as an adviser to Universa Investments, a California-based hedge fund, he still has a playground to test his theories. His big idea is that humans misjudge the possibility of huge market movements, preferring to believe in the lie of predictable returns. Last year proved him wildly right, and by exploiting this mental block, Universa's investors doubled their money.
115% portfolio gain

COMPANIES
Toyota: The strong become stronger
The company has warned that it will likely post its first annual loss in seven decades this year. But thanks to Detroit's woes, on a relative basis Toyota's prospects have never been better. Auto expert Paul Ingrassia recently wrote that the smart bet is that "Toyota will emerge in a stronger competitive position when the world economy starts to recover."
$27.9 Total cash held, in billions

Wal-Mart:Always High profits
Of the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 30 stocks, only two showed green at year's end: McDonald's, up 5.6 percent, and Wal-Mart, up almost 20 percent. Even in November, after the worst waves of the crisis had crashed ashore, Wal-Mart's same-store sales were up by 3.4 percent.
18% Stock gain in 2008, the best return in the djia

THE ARTS
Beyonc é : No. 1 diva
She can still sell records--her new album, "I Am … Sasha Fierce," debuted in the top spot in November, and sold 482,000 copies. But she also knows how to exploit the do-it-yourself ethos of these sparse times. Her "Single Ladies" video is in black-and-white and features little more than a gray backdrop, flashing lights and some choreography, but it's been viewed 26 million times on YouTube and spawned countless imitators.
12 consecutive Weeks on the Billboard Hot 100

ABBA: The world's pop group
While central bankers tried to vanquish the economic gloom with interest-rate cuts, moviegoers had a simpler fix: a 1970s Swedish pop group. ABBA's chart-topping album, "Mamma Mia," became a play in 1999, but didn't get the big-screen treatment until this past year. Perfect timing. The film, with an estimated budget of $52 million, grossed $572 million. The DVD release broke records in several countries; in the United Kingdom, one out of every four households owns a copy.
$572 Gross, in millions

NATIONAL LEADERS
Lula da Silva: President of Brazil
Four out of every five Brazilians approved of their president's performance in mid-December, according to polling by Angus Reid. Unlike his peers around the world, Lula's popularity has grown during the economic downturn, a sign of voters' confidence in his handling of the financial crisis thus far. And though the worst may still be ahead of him, he's got more than $200 billion in foreign-currency reserves to play with, and sky-high interest rates that allow plenty of flexibility. Mardi Gras may be a little subdued in 2009, but Lula will have plenty of reason to celebrate.
80% Approval rating in late December, up from 70 percent three months before

Gordon Brown: Prime minister of Britain
Brown's political life was as good as over by late summer of last year, when his disapproval rating hit 72 percent. But thanks to quick, decisive action during the following months, when the world economy teetered on the edge, Brown came back from the dead. By mid-December, more Britons put their economic faith in him than in his chief competitor, David Cameron.
35% give him top marks on the economy

THINKERS
Peter Schiff: Called the collapse
As early as August 2006, Schiff, the president of Euro Pacific Capital, started appearing on news programs to warn of a coming Armageddon in the real-estate sector. Other pundits like Arthur Laffer and Ben Stein laughed at him. We all know who had the last laugh.

Hyman Minsky: Economics for manics
It's rare for an economist's name to receive widespread attention, unless you're a Keynes or a Krugman. But Hyman Minsky, one of the most prominent economists to study manias, bubbles and panics, received posthumous glory (he died in 1996) after the subprime collapse. In 2008, the "Minsky moment," when speculative investors are forced to sell off their holdings in order to pay for bets gone wrong, clearly arrived. Let's hope the moment doesn't last too long.