Between 2010 and 2019, the S&P 500 grew by nearly 200% — a record decade of growth that rewarded investors with an average annual return of 13%.
But investing in the stock market isn’t a guarantee. Sure, great returns can be a perk if a risky investment takes off overnight and helps boost your bank account. On the flip side, you might invest in a seemingly stable company primed for growth, only to see your stock underperform year after year.
We’ve compiled a list of the most frustrating stocks over the last decade, including what investors expected and why these stocks didn’t provide a return in an otherwise profitable market.
At the start of the 2000s, General Electric (GE) was considered the most valuable company in the world. By the mid-2000s, its healthcare, finance, media, and aviation holdings seemed to promise a steady and diverse revenue stream.
But when the Great Recession hit, many of General Electric’s key investments stopped paying off (especially in the finance sector). By 2018, the company — which had been one of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since the Dow’s creation — was performing poorly enough that it was removed from the index.
CenturyLink’s stock performance dropped 63% over the 2010s as consumers transitioned away from landlines and old DSL connections toward cell phones and fiber-optic internet.
By 2019, CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies) was more committed to expanding its fiber-optic infrastructure. Its stock price has remained low for years, so Lumen could be appealing to current investors.
Still, CenturyLink pared down dividends multiple times in the 2010s, which makes it harder to trust today.
Under Armour is much younger than other companies on the worst-performance list. It opened for public trading in 2005 and maintained a solid performance for the next 10 years.
After stocks peaked in 2015, though, the company started seeing a steady drop-off in clothing sales. By 2017, Under Armour was the second-worst performing member of the S&P 500.
As of 2022, the company still hasn’t recovered. In May 2022, after poor quarterly earnings, Under Armour was one of the three worst-performing stocks of the month.
Pacific Gas & Electric
Between 2009 and 2020, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E;) lost more than 59% of its value. Most of that decline happened in 2018, the year PG&E; contributed to the deadliest wildfire season in California’s history. (The company later pled guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter.)
From then onward, the company’s earnings declined sharply. It filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after being sued for billions of dollars in fire-related lawsuits. In April 2019, the company was performing poorly enough to be removed from the S&P 500.
In 2015, food giant Kraft acquired fellow food giant Heinz, and Kraft Heinz became one of the world’s largest food conglomerates. However, shortly after the purchase, the newly created Kraft Heinz started to lose value.
A SEC investigation set the company back even further. Its five-year 58% plunge meant Kraft Heinz was the S&P 500’s worst performer of 2019.
Carnival, a popular global cruise line, was a fairly stable investment until 2018. Between then and 2022, its value declined by nearly 90% — in no small part due to the COVID-19 crisis, which forced Carnival to suspend its operations for more than a year.
Carnival hasn’t paid stockholders any dividends since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (That may change now that it’s restarted operations.)
Through the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s, Apache’s performance outpaced that of the S&P 500. After 25 years of stability, it seemed like a safe investment in the early 2010s. But like most oil and gas companies, Apache floundered when gas prices plummeted in 2014.
Out of all the energy companies on the stock exchange, Apache took the worst hit: it lost $20 billion in three years and 82% of its value over a decade.
Occidental Petroleum didn’t crash as quickly as Apache, but it didn’t come out of the 2014 gas crisis unscathed. Over the course of the decade, it lost 51% of its value.
The mid-decade gas price drop wasn’t the only cause of Occidental Petroleum’s fall. In 2019, it financed its purchase of another petroleum company through Berkshire Hathaway. As a condition of the financing opportunity, Occidental must pay Berkshire Hathaway an 8% dividend until 2029. On the positive side, Occidental Petroleum appears to be Warren Buffett’s favorite stock, as the legendary investor has been increasing his stake in the company throughout 2022.
As the country’s largest producer of phosphate and potash (two key fertilizers), Mosaic seems like a solid investment.
But from 2010 onward, the company’s performance dropped between 65% and 69%. Like General Electric, Mosaic never recovered from the Great Recession and has never hit its performance high of 2008.
However, Mosaic has been earning back some of its former recognition in 2022. As of August, its underpriced stock was considered a solid buy as the company outperformed the S&P 500.
In the mid-1900s, International Business Machines (IBM) was the top computer manufacturer in the world. As late as the start of the 2010s, IBM was still considered a big name and a safe investment. Warren Buffett enthusiastically bought up IBM shares and encouraged others to do the same.
But as smaller desktop computers and laptops arrived on the scene, IBM struggled to keep up. By 2018, Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway no longer owned IBM stock — it had instead invested heavily in Apple.
Currently, IBM is hoping to move into the cloud and AI industries. And since its stock is still considered undervalued by many, IBM investors’ fortunes might start to turn around.
Macy’s stock peaked in 2015, then declined sharply for the rest of the decade. In 2019 alone, its stock value dropped more than 45% as the company failed to keep up with competitors that shifted focus to online sales much earlier.
As of 2022, Macy’s has finally established a solid online platform. However, it might not be enough as many traditional retailers are still struggling in the current economic environment.
Bath & Body Works (L Brands)
L Brands (Limited Brands) once owned the most popular brick-and-mortar mall staples in the country: Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Abercrombie & Fitch, and more. But as the Great Recession curbed spending and the e-commerce industry started to take off, L Brands’ revenue tanked.
In 2021, the company split its two remaining brands — Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works — into separate companies. Without Victoria’s Secret to hold it back, Bath & Body Works became one of the best-performing S&P 500 stocks of 2021. However, it has since become one of the worst-performing S&P 500 stocks of 2022.
Investing in individual stocks is unpredictable. Even stocks that should be rather safe bets can steadily lose value over time due to market forces, economic shocks, and poor management. That’s why investors look for creative ways to reduce financial stress in their lives.
Still, the market’s unpredictability means a stock’s value is rarely set in stone. While some of the stocks on our list may never attain their previous value, others are already on the road to recovery.
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