The Best And Worst Of 2012

The year was great for homebuilders and wheat farmers but tough on coffee growers and prudent bears

By Ben Steverman

WINNERS

Best Exchange-Traded Fund

Signs of a housing recovery sent shares of homebuilders soaring this year, boosting theIShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund.

Best Commodity

Wheat prices rose in 2012 as drought cut into supply from the grain belts of Russia, Australia, and the U.S. Wheat is a $14.4 billion crop in the U.S., where it ranks fourth behind corn, soybeans, and hay.

Best Equity Mutual Fund

The Fidelity Select Biotechnology Portfolio spreads $2.7 billion in assets over 131 biotechnology stocks. A top holding: Gilead Sciences, the California-based biopharmaceutical company.

Best Initial Public Offering

Retailer Five Below sells candy, stationery, and beauty products priced at $5 or less and aimed at teenagers. Sales are growing 47 percent a year.

Best International Stock

India consumes more than $20 billion worth of whiskey each year — the most in the world — and United Spirits is the nation’s largest distiller. The company’s sales doubled in four years. The United Kingdom’s Diageo bought a controlling stake in United Spirits in November.

Best U.S. Large-Cap Stock

The good news for Regeneron Pharmaceuticals shareholders included strong sales for a treatment for eye diseases. Total revenue jumped fourfold last quarter. The Tarrytown (N.Y.)-based company also won approval for a chemotherapy drug and is developing treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and high cholesterol.

Best Bond Fund

The GMO Emerging Country Debt Fund invests in debt issued by emerging-market countries, a strategy that’s worked in nine of the last 10 years. Its top holding is Venezuelan bonds, a sign that its managers are willing to take risks in particularly unstable countries.

LOSERS

Worst Exchange-Traded Fund

The ProShares VIX Short-Term Futures ETF holds futures contracts that are profitable when the VIX index, a measure of U.S. stock market volatility, rises. 2012 was a calm year.

Worst Commodity

Abundant supply is depressing coffee prices. Brazil, the world’s largest grower, has almost doubled its output in the past decade, producing another record crop this year.

Worst Equity Mutual Fund

The Federated Prudent Bear Fund holds gold mining stocks and other investments it expects will do well in times of financial stress. That strategy suffers in years such as 2012, when stocks rise.

Worst Initial Public Offering

Facebook plunged as much as 53 percent after its $16 billion debut in May. The stock rallied on news that third-quarter sales rose 32 percent, beating analysts’ estimates.

Worst Bond Fund

While the GMO U.S. Treasury Fund may just barely be holding its value at yearend, its extremely cautious strategy means returns aren’t keeping up with inflation. The fund is invested entirely in U.S. Treasury bills, government debt that matures in less than a year.

Worst U.S. Large-Cap Stock

Hewlett-Packard’s annus horribilis was marked by a third-quarter loss that was its worst ever, including an $8 billion writedown related to the dwindling value of its enterprise services business. HP later took an $8.8 billion writedown related to accounting problems at Autonomy, a software maker it acquired last year. In September, HP announced plans for 29,000 job cuts.

Worst International Stock

The biggest target for the European Union’s bailout fund for Spanish banks, Bankia, forecasts it will lose $25 billion in 2012. The bank, formed last year from the merger of seven regional savings banks damaged by Spain’s real estate downturn, is in the midst of cutting more than a quarter of its workforce.

DATA COMPILED BY BLOOMBERG FROM DEC. 31, 2011, TO DEC. 17, 2012. CRITERIA: BOND FUNDS: 725 BOND MUTUAL FUNDS BASED IN THE U.S. WITH ASSETS OF $500 MILLION OR MORE. COMODITIES: 18 GLOBAL COMODITIES TRACKED BY BLOOMBERG. EQUITY MUTUAL FUNDS: 796 U.S.-BASED EQUITY MUTUAL FUNDS WITH ASSETS OF $1 BILLION OR MORE. EXCHANGE-TRADED FUNDS: 1,062 U.S.-BASED ETFS, EXCLUDING THOSE THAT USE LEVERAGE. INITIAL PUBLIC OFFERINGS: 103 U.S. IPOS WITH AN OFFER SIZE OF AT LEAST $100 MILLION. INTERNATIONAL STOCKS: THE MSCIAC WORLD INDEX. LARGE-CAP STOCKS: 367 STOCKS ON U.S. EXCHANGES WITH MARKET VALUE OF MORE THAN $10 BILLION.

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