Wednesday's Worst Stocks in the World

Bad days. We all have them; some of us deserve them.

Here are five stocks whose naughty ways drew investors' scorn on Wednesday:

Company

Closing Price

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

%
Change

52-Week
Range

National CineMedia (NASDAQ:NCMI)

$20.87

**

(17.22)

$20.40-$29.80

VeriFone (NYSE:PAY)

$19.81

***

(14.80)

$18.50-$50.00

BJ's Wholesale Club (NYSE:BJ)

$29.78

**

(11.97)

$28.02-$39.15

UAL Corp. (NASDAQ:UAUA)

$31.99

*

(10.29)

$31.60-$51.60

Harte-Hanks (NYSE:HHS)

$15.61

**

(9.77)

$15.18-$28.78

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool CAPS.

Naughty?
Well, OK, we can't exactly call these stocks naughty. But none of them gets much love from our 79,000-person-strong Motley Fool CAPS community of amateur and professional stock pickers.

To the contrary -- when it comes to these stocks, CAPS investors have gone thumbs-down more often than film critic Roger Ebert. They don't believe any of these stocks are worth owning, and they think some may be worth shorting.

Which of today's candidates is worst? Read on, dear Fool.

Worse
We begin with VeriFone, which announced that it would have to delay its financial filings for its last three fiscal quarters until at least March.

But, of course, it's worse than that. VeriFone made serious errors in valuing inventory. So serious, in fact, that 80% of its pre-tax income could evaporate. Anyone else think investors would gladly wait for filings if they could get that 80% back?

Worser
Next up is Harte-Hanks, which was downgraded to "sell" by the All-Star analysts at Deutsche Bank over concerns about the company's direct-marketing business with newspapers.

The problem, apparently, is with Florida and California. Neither market is expected to recover before 2009, which won't help an already-ailing newspaper industry that depends on the sort of ads Harte-Hanks places for revenue.

No surprises there. McClatchy, whose key properties include The Miami Herald and The Sacramento Bee, suffered a -- wait for it -- loss of $1.3 billion in its last quarter after a massive writedown of goodwill.

Worst
But our winner is United Airlines parent UAL Corp. Why pick on United when US Airways (NYSE: LCC  ) and Northwest were also down heavily yesterday? United is special. According to FlightStats, United canceled four times as many flights at Chicago's O'Hare airport as its nearest competitor -- AMR's (NYSE: AMR  ) American -- from Dec. 23 to 31.

To be fair, Chicago is United's primary hub, whereas American operates mostly from Dallas. And it's not like most of these cancellations were voluntary. Winter weather in the Midwest has been atrocious.

But O'Hare is also a hub for American and, upon news of the curious cancellations, United's pilots accused the airline of skimping on staff. I'm not at all sure that's a fair criticism. (UAL says it has more pilots today than it had a year ago.) But the Chicago cancellations remain one of a very long list of incidents in which United has failed fliers.

And remember: this is the airline that stiffed pensioners and handed out bonuses -- not just to management, but to front-line employees -- even while underperforming its own customer-service metrics 75% of the time.

United and its unfriendly skies ... Wednesday's worst stock in the CAPS world.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think by signing up for CAPS today. It's 100% free to participate.

I'll be back tomorrow with more stock horror stories.


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