Monday'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 Monday:

Company

Closing Price

CAPS Rating (5 max)

% Change

52-Week Range

CRA International (NASDAQ:CRAI)

$22.99

***

(39.75%)

$22.11-$55.00

ExpressJet (NYSE:XJT)

$1.88

**

(15.70%)

$1.77-$6.63

Level 3 Communications (NASDAQ:LVLT)

$1.87

***

(14.22%)

$1.83-$6.42

Countrywide Financial (NYSE:CFC)

$4.36

*

(14.00%)

$4.25-$42.24

Bear Stearns (NYSE:BSC)

$62.30

*

(11.10%)

$60.26-$159.36

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

Naughty?
Well, OK, we can't exactly call these stocks naughty. There are days when five-star winners and newsletter recommendations appear here, though not today.

But, if you're an investor, you'll have plenty of bad days. The trick is to avoid dating -- or, worse, marrying -- your losers. That's why I listen when our 86,000-person-strong Motley Fool CAPS community of stock pickers speaks with a poor rating or a negative pitch. You should, too.

Thus, here is today's list of the worst stocks in the world.

Worse
We begin with CRA International, whose preliminary first-quarter report badly missed estimates. Management chose to cut 2008 guidance as a result.

Wait, there's more, and none of it is good. CRA, like Accenture (NYSE: ACN  ) and BearingPoint, is a management consulting firm. Its advantage, according to company literature, is a highly analytical approach to solving business problems. That'd be great if its consultants were performing for clients. Increasingly, they aren't: CRA's "utilization rate" fell from 74% to 70% in the latest quarter. (For consultants, utilization is the percentage of available billable hours that actually get billed.)

This matters because it's not a trend that reverses easily. Consultants don't get paid to win business. So, in the process of trying to bring utilization rates back up, it's possible (likely?) that CRA will incur even more unbillable hours, eating still more short-term profits.

Worser
Next up is Bear Stearns, which fervently denied rumors that it is facing a liquidity crisis on the day that Moody's downgraded a significant portion of its mortgage portfolio.

CEO Alan Schwartz didn't mince words: "Bear Stearns' balance sheet, liquidity and capital remain strong." Trouble is, Moody's may have a point. Bear is one of many firms to carry securitized mortgages backed by Alt-A loans, which have proven to be riskier than expected.

Does Bear deserve the benefit of the doubt here? Perhaps. But investors are right to tread carefully. This, after all, is the same firm that had to file for bankruptcy for two of its hedge funds last summer.

Worst
But our winner is Level 3 Communications, whose co-founder, Kevin O'Hara, has resigned his role as company president and chief operating officer. Chief financial officer Sunit Patel, meanwhile, remains in that role and the company has terminated its search to replace him.

To be fair, these changes could be excellent news for investors. Level 3 has been suffering operationally. Much of the company's 2007 sales backlog wasn't relieved until the fourth quarter and, even then, executives warned that its first quarter would be seasonally slow.

But Level 3's tap dancing with respect to Patel and the CFO's role is troubling. In October, the company said it would ask him to stay on but in a different role, stressing the need for a CFO with "skills and experience which emphasize both operational and financial management." Now CEO Jim Crowe and former sales VP Neil Hobbs will take on the operational duties that were O'Hara's and were to have been the domain of Patel's replacement. Call it management by crazy quilt.

In addition, Level 3 says that, in its search for a new CFO, it learned that Patel was a pretty smart guy. Quoting Crowe from a company statement:

In October, we announced that we were beginning a search for a new CFO. At the same time, we began implementing internal organizational changes aimed at both retaining Sunit Patel and bolstering our financial operational capabilities. During the search process, it became clear that the company would be best served by Sunit remaining CFO. I am particularly pleased that our company will continue to benefit from Sunit's broadly recognized leadership and strategic financial thinking. He is a gifted, financial executive with a deep knowledge of and commitment to the company. [Emphasis added.]

Translation: So Patel isn't an operations expert. Who cares? He's brilliant with spreadsheets!

Not that we need to know whether or not the COO job stays split between Crowe and Hobbs. Or why there will be a new VP of finance to report to Patel. (Sigh.)

Level 3 and its assignment-challenged management team ... Monday'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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