I suppose any one year isn’t all that different from other years. They all have disappointments and surprises. Market ups and downs come and go, and as far as politics and economics, they tend to be anyone’s — or everyone’s — guess. After all, how many people would’ve bet President Obama would be reelected in 2012 after the 2010 House of Representatives debacle, or that the eurozone and Greece would be so big a part of the daily investment chatter?
Whether you view Obama’s reelection as a surprise or disappointment is a personal matter, so in keeping with that spirit, I’ve come up with my own little list of ups and downs in 2012. Of course, you can’t please all the people all the time, so feel free to add to either list below.
In the meantime, here goes:
1. Sprint (NYSE:S) managed to pick itself off the floor and flourish. The stock was hovering around $2 per share but rallied to a remarkable 137% year-to-date increase, now steadily over $5 per share.
How did it pull this off? After a series of what appeared to be head fakes and lots of speculation on merger or acquisition partners, including MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) and Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), Sprint announced a combination with Japanese mobile operator Softbank. Does this mean Sprint can unseat either of AT&T (NYSE:T) or Verizon (NYSE:VZ) any time soon? Not likely, but however you look at it, successfully integrating these two is a surprise.
2. The banking industry was just a mess for a very long time, what with TARP and lawsuits, “Tier I” capital requirements and Dodd-Frank. But 2012 was breakout for the entire sector, led by an astonishing run-up of 102% by Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), and 30% by JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM).
As I pointed out before, the popular banking sector exchange-traded fund Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSE:XLF) gained nearly 25% year-to-date, and investors clearly believe that either a) the troubles are behind the sector, or b) too-big-to fail is still the best bet when it comes to investing.
It will be very interesting to see if the sector can maintain its momentum with newly elected Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), set to join the Senate Banking Committee. This should be fun to watch!
3. Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) was belittled from the first day of the year right through July when the beleaguered Internet portal hired Marissa Meyer away from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). Meyer is a bit of a tech rock star, and her first order of business was to let everyone know that a “mobile” strategy was in the cards.
Of course the strategy hasn’t paid any dividends (pun intended) to date, buy Meyer managed to jawbone the stock up nearly 20% on the year. I suspect the Street will give her plenty of time to work through the kinks in 2013.
4. Samsung‘s Galaxy lineup of mobile phones surprised and delighted lots of people who got tired of Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5 being all anyone wanted to talk about.
Samsung started out the year on the losing end of a lawsuit with Apple, but ended it with a win in the courts that kept its mobile product line on the shelves. And guess what? Samsung’s Galaxy III phones outsold the (older model) iPhone 4. Now, one quarter does not a pattern make, but take it from someone who saw plenty of Samsung devices overseas: This is no fluke, and Apple best pay close attention.
5. Housing improved slowly but surely throughout the year, capped off by the recent rise in home prices. Each month’s report suggested a rebound and tagging along with the good news was Home Depot (NYSE:HD), up over 40% on the year. Homebuilders also saw gains, with Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) up over 300% and Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) up over 50%. Fingers crossed on this one!
1. Apple so dominated the conversation that I suppose anything on the downside would be viewed as a disappointment. But this much was true: Apple at $1,000 a share not only didn’t come true, but many are now expecting Apple to hit $500 first.
What happened? It’s hard to keep up with such torrid growth and expectations, and probably lots of money managers (and smart investors, unlike me) took some profit off the table at opportune times.
2. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) made so many mistakes that it can only be viewed as the mess it is today, after losing 46% of its value year-to-date. Where to start? Anywhere: Layoffs didn’t help, an $8 billion write-off of a prior investment was embarrassing and sticking with low-margin businesses in printing and hardware can’t last much longer. If you don’t think the latter is the case, keep an eye in 2013 on Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), which may see the same results.
3. Avon (NYSE:AVP) ladies are still calling, but not many women are answering the door. The stock is down 20% on the year, and it has recently announced plans to slash jobs and exit two Asian markets. More cost-cutting is likely in the works, and with its dividend cut nearly 75%, there isn’t much room for improvement in either earnings or stock price in the coming year.
New CEO Sheri McCoy came in just as the company rejected a $10 billion bid from Coty, and she might be hoping it’ll come back to the table soon. Um, not likely.
4. Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) shareholders must want to cry about an offer that never happened. Founder and former CEO Richard Schultze “offered” to buy the company for between $24 to $26 per share back in the spring. Was it a real offer or just a feeler? We’ll never know because it went nowhere.
Guess what? That price looks totally unrealistic today. At best — meaning if Schultze and his group can find anyone to help finance this mess — investors might be looking at $15 per share. The stock is off over 50% year-to-date, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it fall more right up until February, when Schultze is supposed to provide a formal figure.
5. The Fiscal Cliff is a bit of absurdist monomaniacal theater among politicians that should have everyone pissed off. Seriously? We can’t figure out how to manage our country? The same folks who preach about how “kitchen table” issues are front and center can’t come to grips with exactly what people at the kitchen table figure out: how to manage their money.
Did they learn nothing from the debt ceiling debacle in 2011? This is truly a bitter disappointment.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing he is long AAPL and VZ.