316 stocks expected to beat Apple

Can't figure out which stock to buy? It's so tempting to buy Apple (AAPL) — everyone else is. But in the twisted reality of Wall Street, the most popular stocks don't necessarily have the most upside, in fact, just the opposite is often the case.

Read MoreApple's stock bounces back to hit a new high

It's not just academic theory. There are 316 stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500, including driller Nabors (NBR), designer Michael Kors (KORS) and airline Delta Air Lines (DAL) where the future expected gains implied by analysts' 18-month price targets are higher than that for Apple, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Capital IQ.

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

If the analysts are right, expect to see another rerun of the harsh reality of investing. Stocks that are popular, rising fast and can seemingly do no wrong — are often doomed to subpar returns going forward. It's almost by definition. The more investors are bidding up shares of a company, the higher the price and the lower the future returns.

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Apple is a classic example. Apple's run has been impressive. The stock is up 25.4% this year, a remarkable gain given how large the company is and how valuable it is. But as the stock runs up, the potential upside is getting increasingly smaller. The average analyst has a price target of $105.36 on the stock, which implies just a 4.8% upside.

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Compare Apple's 4.8% expected stock gain with that of Nabors. Analysts are putting a price target of $33.80 on the stock, which closed Tuesday at $26.10. That's a 29.5% expected appreciation, not too shabby since the stock is already up 54% this year already.

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Analysts at least see a reason for the high hopes — earnings. Investors expect Nabors' adjusted earnings to rise 7% this year. OK, not all that impressive. But that's not what investors are paying for now. Analysts are forecasting the company's earnings in 2015 to soar 80%. Compare that growth with Apple, where analysts are calling for 11.6% growth this year and just 11% in 2015.

Then there's the example of red-hot designer Michael Kors. The stock, which shot up from its initial public offering price of $20 a share in 2011, is down 1.5% this year. Retail stocks have been a tough place to be in 2014. But this recent downdraft leaves the stock with 29.3% upside based on analysts' price target of $103.40. Shares closed Tuesday up 59 cents to $79.95.

Sure, some investors might find comfort going along with the crowd and buying the stocks everyone else is. That's the kind of thinking that pushed Apple shares to an all-time record Tuesday. But sometimes, at least when investing, it pays to think different.

There isn't space to list all 316 stocks expected to do better than Apple. But, below are the 15 stocks in the S&P 500 with the most expected upside to the average Wall Street analysts' 18-month price target:

18-month price target
Gain to price target
YTD % Ch.
Nabors NBR $33.80 29.50% 53.60%
Genworth GNW $17.86 29.40% -11.10%
Cabot Oil COG $42.67 29.30% -14.90%
Michael Kors KORS $103.40 29.30% -1.50%
Delta Air DAL $50.97 28.90% 43.90%
Chesapeake CHK $33.63 28.60% -3.60%
PVH PVH $145.95 28.40% -16.40%
Mallinckrodt MNK $89 28% 33%
Range Resources RRC $97.81 26.90% -8.60%
EQT EQT $120 26.50% 5.60%
CONSOL Energy CNX $50.33 26.40% 4.70%
Denbury DNR $21.24 26.30% 2.40%
General Motors GM $43.57 26% -15.40%
Mylan MYL $59.06 25.50% 8.40%
Fossil Group FOSL $123.53 25.00% -17.60%

Source: S&P Capital IQ, USA TODAY

—By Matt Krantz of USA Today

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