The 3 Most Exciting Stocks of 2013

by Dan Burrows | December 17, 2013 1:56 pm

Herbalife (HLF[1]), Tesla Motors (TSLA[2]) and JCPenney (JCP[3]) stood out in an unusually dramatic year for stocks. True, there’s no shortage of exciting stock stories this year. That’s what happens when the market has an amazing run, adding 25% so far in 2013.

hlf-stock-herbalife-jcp-tsla[4]For example, we had amazing turnarounds from Netflix (NFLX[5]) and Best Buy (BBY[6]) this year, both of which helped lead the broader market higher.

Then, of course, there’s Facebook (FB[7]). After languishing for much of the year[8], FB stock took off in the fall, and now it’s sitting on a triple-digit percent gain.

Sears Holdings (SHLD[9]), meanwhile, was a fountain of downside-drama[10] this year. With both Sears and Kmart stores cracking up, the market’s only interested in what SHLD stock is worth in a breakup.

But when it comes to share performance, billionaire egos, innovation and conflict, you can’t beat HLF stock, TSLA stock or JCP stock for an almost operatic 2013. Read on to see why:

Compare Brokers[11]

Herbalife (HLF)

hlf-herbalife-jcp-tslaYTD Performance: +132%
52-Week High: $78.50
52-Week Low: $24.24

There’s nothing quite like a battle of billionaires — and their egos — to make for a great stock story, and Herbalife (HLF[1]) has it all.

Technically, this story began at the end of last year when billionaire Bill Ackman accused HLF of being a pyramid scheme. His Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund took a huge short position[12], betting that the Federal Trade commission would shut Herbalife down.

Almost immediately, other billionaires smelling blood in the water (or with old scores to settle) took long positions in Herbalife. Carl Icahn, Dan Loeb and George Soros were just some of the multi-billionaire hedge fund operators squeezing Ackman’s short[13] position for both fun and profit.

In the meantime, a top HLF salesman was found dead in an apparent suicide[14], Icahn attained two seats on the Herbalife board, the FTC sat on its hands, and a re-audit of Herbalife’s books showed nothing amiss.

And yet through all the volatility, punching and counterpunching, HLF more than doubled for the year-to-date, costing Ackman $500 million — and counting.

Compare Brokers[11]

Tesla Motors (TSLA)

hlf-herbalife-jcp-tslaYTD Performance: +351%
52-Week High: $194.50
52-Week Low: $32.11

Tesla Motors (TSLA[2]) doesn’t just generate excitement from its state-of-the-art electric cars — TSLA stock has been a melodrama in and of itself this year.

In another war between longs and shorts, the longs might have the upper hand for now — but some epic volatility in TSLA[15] stock gave the shorts plenty of wins along the way, especially over the last couple of months.

Among the many headwinds and tailwinds for Tesla stock this year: Consumer Reports called it the best car the magazine has ever driven; a bad review in The New York Times cost Tesla an estimated $100 million in sales; and — most damaging — three Tesla Model S’s caught fire[16].

In the meantime, Elon Musk is notching or being shortlisted for CEO-of-the-year honors in the financial press, and Tesla Motors isn’t even his first passion. (That would be SpaceX, Musk’s privately held rocket company.)

Through it all, TSLA stock has more than quadrupled for the year-to-date, and yet it’s still limping into the end 2013. Indeed, TSLA stock was up more than 500% for the year-to-date[17] less than two months ago, but then those cars caught fire. TSLA stock has lost more than 20% ever since.

Compare Brokers[11]

JCPenney (JCP)

hlf-herbalife-jcp-tslaYTD Performance: -58%
52-Week High: $23.10
52-Week Low: $6.24

JCPenney (JCP[3]) has been one of the most exciting stories of the year, but for all the wrong reasons: JCP stock is off nearly 60% as the troubled retailer struggles to undo all the damage from its predecessor CEO.

Interestingly, JCP also bears the mark of Bill Ackman. He was the driving force to bring in former CEO Ron Johnson. The former Target (TGT[18]) and Apple (AAPL[19]) executive couldn’t have screwed up JCP more if he tried.

Johnson was fired in April, but JCP stock has been taking on water faster than his replacement can bail it out. (Ackman unloaded his stake in JCP stock [20]for a $500 million loss.)

JCP is still racking up wider-than-expected losses[21], and a bad holiday selling season[22] could push JCP stock over the edge.

It’s been a fascinating, if depressing, story. JCP was the worst-performing stock in the S&P 500 (that is, until JCP stock was booted from the S&P 500[23] in November), blowing past a 13-year low[24] along the way. JCP stock might rise from the ashes in 2014 — or disappear altogether.

As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. HLF:
  2. TSLA:
  3. JCP:
  4. [Image]:
  5. NFLX:
  6. BBY:
  7. FB:
  8. languishing for much of the year:
  9. SHLD:
  10. downside-drama:
  11. Compare Brokers:
  12. huge short position:
  13. squeezing Ackman’s short:
  14. apparent suicide:
  15. epic volatility in TSLA:
  16. caught fire:
  17. 500% for the year-to-date:
  18. TGT:
  19. AAPL:
  20. unloaded his stake in JCP stock :
  21. wider-than-expected losses:
  22. bad holiday selling season:
  23. booted from the S&P 500:
  24. 13-year low:

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