The Standard & Poor's 500 Index of the biggest U.S. stocks is barely break-even this year and there are many shares underperforming the broader market.
Some of the weakest companies are being plagued by a limp economy, intense competition and poor leadership. Those stocks will take time to recover from their 2011 lows, especially given that the economy at home and abroad — in Europe and China, especially — is going down.
And for stocks with company-specific issues, there won't be an overnight turnaround.
Of the bottom five stocks, I recommend only one: coal-mining company Alpha Natural Resources. The stock is poised to rebound in 2012 as the integration of an acquisition takes hold in 2012 and coal prices increase.
Details on the worst stocks of the S&P 500 are below. You'll want to stay away from most of them in 2012.
5. Alpha Natural Resources
Company Profile: Alpha Natural Resources is an Appalachian coal supplier.
2011 Stock Performance: minus 59 percent.
What went wrong: The acquisition of Massey Energy after its tragic mine accident in 2010 is taking longer than expected to integrate and costing more, causing investors to question the acquisition.
Concerns over an economic slowdown in the U.S. and Europe also weigh on the stock.
Is it worth owning in 2012? Many analysts argue that the stock has been unfairly beaten down. As Massey Energy is consolidated, its profits will improve and the realization of savings ($150 million in 2012) will provide support for the stock.
Plus, U.S. coal contract prices are up from last year, which will help profitability. I recommend buying this stock in 2012.
Company Profile: Netflix provides subscription-based Internet services for TV shows and movies in the United States and internationally.
2011 Stock Performance: minus 59 percent
What went wrong: The largest problem for the company was a 60% price hike to its popular DVD-by-mail and streaming service.
The result: Netflix lost 9 million DVD customers since June. In addition, the company's aggressive international expansion is producing losses.
Is it worth owning in 2012? The direction CEO Reed Hastings has taken the company over the past year has resulted in a damaged brand image, and his leadership style has become concerning.
Increasing competition — Verizon being the latest — will continue and Netflix now has to prove its ability to compete and regain customers. Stay away from Netflix in 2012.
3. MEMC Electronic Materials
Company Profile: MEMC Electronic is a maker of silicon used in computer chips and solar panels.
2011 Stock Performance: minus 63 percent
What went wrong: Declining solar-panel prices has torched the stock. Suntech Power Holdings canceled its supply agreement with MEMC in July, which was to last through 2016.
Recently, MEMC announced plans to reduce its workforce by 20 percent, idle a plant in Italy and make other cost-cutting plans.
Is it worth owning in 2012? Prices have declined substantially over the past four years and are expected to continue the downward trend. It will be hard for MEMC Electronics to compete in this type of environment.
2012 will be a difficult year and, as such, I would not buy MEMC Electronics' shares.
2. First Solar
Company Profile: First Solar makes solar-power systems.
2011 Stock Price Performance: minus 63 percent
What went wrong: Price wars on solar panels, dependency on government subsidies, and uncertainty around demand from Europe have put pressure on First Solar's stock.
Competition in the solar-panel arena is high, and many analysts are anticipating consolidation. At the end of October, Chief Executive Officer Rob Gillette left the company.
Is it worth owning in 2012? Two important headwinds will deter a near-term recovery — reduced government tax incentives and customer financing. First Solar is viewed as one of the better stocks in the industry, but weak demand will prevent upside for some time.
Steer clear of this stock in 2012.
1. Monster Worldwide
Company Profile: Online employment services company.
2011 Stock Performance: minus 67.5 percent
What went wrong: Monster Worldwide has been hurt by a weak job market. As the company's North American business has begun to show improvement, profitability has struggled to follow suit.
Declining U.S. margins have taken a toll on the stock. Increased competition from social networks like LinkedIn , Facebook and Craigslist has also weighed on Monster.
Is it worth owning in 2012? International growth out of the U.K. and Germany will slow from the 30%-plus growth reported over the past two quarters.
Monster is also having a hard time profiting from an improving environment in the U.S., especially given its higher cost structure versus competition.
While insiders, including the CEO and CFO, have been buying shares signaling they believe the stock is undervalued, I recommend avoiding this stock in 2012.
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