The U.S. stock market returned almost nothing to investors in 2011. As of early December, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had  netted 0.9 percent — and actually lost 1 percent if dividends aren’t  included.

Such poor overall performance hides some wide  variations: 80 stocks in the S&P 500 returned 20 percent or more in  2011, while 43 lost more than a third of their value.

Bloomberg rankings analyzed S&P 500 returns as of Dec. 2 to determine which  stocks were best and worst to shareholders in 2011. Their results follow, starting with 2011′s 5 best performers.

THE BEST STOCKS OF 2011

Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.

Industry: Oil exploration & production

Total return: 128.8 percent

On Oct. 27, Cabot (COG) reported that gas and oil production was up 39 percent from a year ago. The company also estimated production could expand 45 percent to 55  percent in 2012, a projection Global Hunter Securities analyst Dan  Morrison called “eye-popping.”

El Paso Corp.

Industry: Pipelines

Total return: 84.2 percent

El Paso (EP) shares rose in January when the company forecast “double digit”  earnings growth in 2012. Then, on Oct. 17, shares surged higher still on news that competitor Kinder Morgan (KMI) would buy El Paso for $21.1 billion, 37 percent more than its closing price on Oct. 14.

Biogen Idec Inc.

Industry: Biotechnology

Total return: 68.9 percent

The world’s largest maker of medicines treating multiple sclerosis, Biogen Idec (BIIB) saw its biggest share gains of the year — including a 15 percent rise  on Apr. 21 — driven by studies showing the effectiveness of the  experimental MS pill BG-12. Analysts estimated the product could bring  in annual sales of as much as $3 billion.

Mastercard Inc.

Industry: Commercial services-finance

Total return: 69.2 percent

MasterCard (MA) is the world’s second-largest payment network, processing $2.1 trillion in credit- and debit-card purchases in 2010. In 2011, the company’s  rising profit and market share boosted the stock. On Nov. 2, the company reported that net income rose 38 percent amid a 21 percent rise in  credit-card spending.

Intuitive Surgical Inc.

Industry: Medical instruments

Total return: 68.3 percent

Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) said in October it expects sales to rise as much as 23 percent this  year. The company’s main product, the robotic “da Vinci” surgical  system, converts doctor’s hand motions into tiny movements inside a  patient.

THE WORST STOCKS OF 2011

When world financial markets ran into trouble in  August — problems sparked by concerns about European debt and Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. government debt — the stocks of many  financial services companies took it on the chin. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 3, the financial stocks in the S&P 500 dropped 23.5 percent. Other  parts of the market, including the airline industry and materials  companies, saw poor results for other reasons.

The following are  the S&P 500′s 5 worst stocks of 2011, as measured by their total  year-to-date return, including dividends, as of Dec. 2.

Monster Worldwide Inc.

Industry: Human resources

Total return: -68.9 percent

Monster Worldwide (MWW) shares rose 36 percent in 2010, but in January the company projected  disappointing estimates for 2011 earnings. Goldman Sachs analysts said  the stock was “fully valued.” Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the  company’s sales growth to slow from 25.5 percent year-over-year in the  second quarter of 2011 to 0.35 percent in 2012′s first quarter.

First Solar Inc.

Industry: Energy-alternate sources

Total return: -63.3 percent

Solar manufacturers such as First Solar (FSLR) face an increasingly competitive industry. Prices have fallen for solar panels as demand from Europe has slowed and Chinese producers boost  output. Three U.S. solar companies, including Solyndra, declared  bankruptcy in 2011.

Netflix Inc.

Industry: Internet

Total return: -62.2 percent

Netflix (NFLX) shares rose 442 percent from the beginning of 2010 until July 2011.  That advance stalled when customers didn’t like changes to the pricing  and terms for Netflix’s video-streaming and DVD-by-mail subscription  services. The company lost 800,000 U.S. subscribers in the third quarter of 2011.

MEMC Electronic Materials Inc.

Industry: Semiconductors

Total return: -62.0 percent

MEMC Electronic Materials (WFR) is contending with a downturn in two of its end markets, the solar and  semiconductor industries. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimate that  revenue will drop 13 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of  2012, while the company posts a loss of 4 cents per share.

Alpha Natural Resources Inc.

Industry: Coal

Total return: -59.8 percent

Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) bought rival Massey Energy on June 14, months after an explosion at  Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine killed 29 people. In August,  executives said they would have difficulty getting planned cost savings  from the combination. In September, they warned that production would be lower than expected.

Now past performance does not predict future performance as some of these losers stocks of 2011 were on the winners lists of stocks of 2010.  However, watching what these names are doing and listening to their conference calls will tell you what the future holds. Some of these worst performing stocks of 2011 might be winners in 2012 if some things change.

Cheers,

Vinny

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