Pop quiz: what> do domestic stocks and Japan have in common?
They've both had a lost decade. Just before the holidays, The Wall Street Journal published an article noting that the first 10 years of the 21st century was the worst performance period for U.S. stocks in their 200 years of recorded history. It's a shocking, but statistically supported conclusion. From the end of 1999, the New York Stock Exchange's tickers have dropped roughly 0.5% in value annually. Ugh.
Look at the averages. Major stock indexes have had dandy rallies this year, but were all losers if their results are viewed over that time period, a disturbing conclusion for advocates of buy and hold investing. From Dec. 31, 1999, to Dec. 29, 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 8.3%. The S&P 500 lost 23.3%. The Nasdaq, creator and destroyer of technology stock wealth, was down 43.8%.
And that's just the broad averages. Since an average comes from blending extremes, we took a look at the winners and losers of the last 10 years, and offer these slightly subjective lists of the best and worst stocks of the decade. As an aside, some of the worst of the worst were so bad they didn't survive the decade, but the stories of their failure remain central to the plight of today's investor. Their songs are over, but their maladies linger on.
Goldman Sachs (GS)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $94.19
Price at Dec. 28 close: $163.76 | Net gain: 73.9%
In the wake of the credit crisis and financial meltdown, Goldman's imprint is more deeply-felt than ever. The bank dodged the subprime disaster, and dispatched its top managers, from former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on down, to government posts to help stanch the Street's bleeding. If the size of the bonuses doled out by CEO Lloyd Blankfein and the firm's compensation committee rankle on Main Street, it's worth remembering they come from the piles and piles of money Goldman was able to make on Wall Street, even when things looked bleak.
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $25.53
Price at Dec. 28 close: $58.26 | Net gain: 148%
One of only two Dow component stocks to double over the decade, Caterpillar owes much of its good fortune to the rest of the world. From Albania to Zambia, its construction and agricultural equipment represents a leading brand that's been able to penetrate emerging markets as they emerge. As earth mover to what economist Ed Yardeni loves to call "the greatest global boom of all time," Caterpillar has navigated the decade s ups and downs in a way that allowed it to level off its profits with consistency and plans for sustained organic growth.
United Technologies (UTX)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $32.50
Price at Dec. 28 close: $70.48 | Net gain: 117%
United Technologies is the second Dow stock to double, for many of the same reasons as Caterpillar. The world wants what it's making, from elevators to jet engines to air conditioners, and they're buying.
Price per share on Aug. 19, 2004, its initial public offering: $85.00
Price at Dec. 28 close: $619.89 | Net gain: 521%
When it went public, Google raised $1.67 billion, implying a total value of $23 billion. It's now got a market cap of $196 billion. Not too shabby for a company that's become a verb and which has extended its reach into publishing, personal navigation and advertising. Google's rapid growth may be slowing, but its industry dominance is not.
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $25.70
Price at Dec. 28 close: $209.48 | Net gain: 723%
Though the health woes of CEO Steve Jobs concerned investors over the last two years, Apple reigned supreme in the tech gadget universe with its iPod and iPhone product lines. The jury is still out on how the company might thrive without the man, the products Apple puts out continue to be ardently received by a fiercely loyal customer base.
Southwestern Energy (SWN)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: 82 cents
Price at Dec. 28 close: $49.51 | Net gain: 5993%
This Houston-based natural gas producer was in the right places at the right times for this decade's markets. Its development of an unconventional gas reservoir in Arkansas and other operations in Oklahoma, Texas, and Pennsylvania have established sizable, proven reserves and constantly rising profits. Over the last decade, this has been a true gusher in the energy sector.
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $16.00
Price at Dec. 28 close: $32.88 | Net gain: 106%
The perfect company for an expanding America, Nutrisystem mastered a couple of successful formulas and put that knowledge to work. It produced dietary food that sold well, and perfected a subscription service model that kept its customers coming back.
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $40.28
Price at Dec. 28 close: $68.85 | Net gain: 71.5%
High oil prices pushed ExxonMobil to a profit of $45.2 billion in 2008, a record for U.S. corporations. The last year wasn't as much of a crude party at the commodities trough, but it's tough to see a more reliable player in an often volatile business.
Intuitive Surgical (ISRG)
Price per share on June 2, 2000, the day of its IPO: $18.06
Price at Dec. 28 close: $302.18 | Net gain: 1597% **CQ**
A strong contender in the medical device field, Intuitive's DaVinci surgical systems are widely used and very profitable.
Express Scripts ()
Price per share on Dec. 21, 1999: $7.45
Price at Dec. 28 close: $88.44 | Net gain: 1005%
Pharmacy-benefit management sounds dull it involves creating programs and overseeing drug benefits for insurance companies but it is also a huge and profitable business. What s more, it came out on the right side of recent health-care reform legislation.
General Motors ()
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $72.69
Price today: Trading was halted on the GM ticker at 75 cents a share after bankruptcy declaration, June 1, 2009.
General Motors was running on fumes for many years before the wheels came off in 2009 battered by high heath care costs, crippling debt and a failure to develop widely-popular, new models. As it struggles to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, GM is also readjusting to a shrunken Detroit and a China that is emerging as the world's largest car market.
Lehman Brothers ()
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $20.89
Price today: Trading on LEH halted at 15 cents a share as company collapses and is bought by Barclays Capital, Sept. 15, 2008.
Lehman's collapse is seen as the peak of the panic over the U.S. financial system. In free fall, it was unable to persuade fellow Wall Street investment banks or the federal government to effect a rescue, and a portion of the company was bought up by Barclays for just $1.75 billion.
Bank of America (BAC)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $25.09
Price at Dec. 28 close: $15.18 | Net decline: 39%
While not the worst-performing stock in the markets by any measure, Bank of America deserves some special consideration as one of the largest survivors of the recent financial debacle. It now owns Countrywide and Merrill Lynch, is still in business and will return to growth. But its reputation remains tarnished for now.
Boston Scientific (BSX)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $10.94
Price at Dec. 28 close: $8.84 | Net decline: 19.3%
Boston Scientific is on the list because of its rise and fall over the decade. The company more than quadrupled its value in the early part of the decade, nearing $46 a share in late 2004. But legal issues over its drug-coated stents, including a crippling $431 million patent infringement judgment, and increased competition have combined to make this the sick man of medical device makers.
Sprint Nextel (S)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $64.08
Price at Dec. 28 close: $3.69 | Net decline: 94.3%
The 2005 Sprint and Nextel merger rivals Time-Warner's linkup with AOL, widely regarded as one of the worst corporate blunders in history. Technical issues, hardware issues, network issues and an inability to blend the corporate cultures sent customers away in droves, and its efforts to shore up its current network have been outpaced by tough competition in the sagging telecommunications sector.
New York Times (NYT)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $49.12
Price at Dec. 28 close: $12.09 | Net decline: 75.1%
It's hardly fair to single out The Times among the media companies whose shares have plunged as they've failed to develop successful business models for the Internet era. But the Sulzberger clan, which owns the franchise, has presided over some events that garnered harsh criticism, including acquisitions that did not pan out, the expensive construction of a new headquarters and a journalistic scandal some contend has weakened the brand.
Eastman Kodak (EK)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $66.25
Price at Dec. 28 close: $4.29 | Net decline: 93.5%
They made money on film, and it's been displaced in the digital photography age.
Pulte Homes (PHM)
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $5.62
Price at Dec. 28 close: $9.88 | Net gain: 75.5%
Long-term investors are still up on this homebuilding stock, but Pulte and its publicly traded peers epitomize the consequences of cheap credit and aggressive expansion. At the mid-2005 peak of the building boom, these shares were up a mind-blowing 736%, and nobody put on the brakes. Management was blind to possible downsides on the way up, and that's bad stewardship for stockholders.
Price per share on Dec. 31, 1999: $35.23
Price at Dec. 28 close: $4.16 | Net decline: 88.3%
Insuring municipal bonds is a safe, dull business, and if MBIA had stuck to it rather than moving into hard to value mortgage-backed securities its shareholders would enjoy steady returns, rather than chaos and near collapse.