Although fears about Cyprus from earlier in the week have largely faded, Wall Street's new concern is Italy, a much larger economy whose political future is still up in the air. But that wasn't enough to hurt stocks too badly today; the S&P 500 Index (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) fell less than 0.1% to close just points away from an all-time record. Still, there were some major losers in today's market, with one laggard in particular taking a severe hit.
Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) cratered 13.9% to safely secure its place as the absolute worst performer in the 500 stock index. As is often the case, "If you live by the analyst, you die by the analyst," and the uncertain future of Cliffs and the entire U.S. iron ore market means analyst opinions carry extra weight. Today's brutal downgrade from Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) cites, in essence, a global business nightmare: Declining iron ore prices, weakening reserves in Asia, and high costs in Canada make for an ominous trifecta of downward catalysts.
Coming in a distant second, telecom services provider Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: FTR ) fell 2.8% Wednesday. There's just not a lot going for this company right now; Fitch's downgraded the stock last week, short interest is becoming more and more pronounced, and with a high debt load and a 10% annual dividend payout, you have to wonder how sustainable those cash outflows are.
Lastly, shares of Dollar General (NYSE: DG ) slumped 2.4%, just days after the discount retailer rose following an earnings beat on Monday. The catalyst today came in the form of a 30 million-share secondary offering by major investors that threaten to flood the market with sell orders. Though sales in the most recent quarter didn't blow anyone away, Dollar General has managed to do pretty darn well for itself throughout the tough economy. So while the stock may have stumbled today, the longer-term health of the business -- it went from a net loss in FY 2008 to a $766 million profit in FY 2012 -- isn't too shabby.