Today’s 3 Worst Stocks in the S&P 500

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

The stock market fell again today, dropping for a fifth straight day, continuing the dreary downward spiral of equity markets in December. Though not severe, the losses have been consistent, as Wall Street frets about what an objectively stronger economy may mean for the Federal Reserve's $85 billion monthly stimulus program. Third-quarter GDP growth, at 3.6%, came in stronger than economists expected, and with jobless claims trending lower last week, all eyes turn to tomorrow's nonfarm payrolls report. The last thing Wall Street wants is for tons of people to start getting jobs, because it could effectively spell the beginning of the end for loose money central bank policies. The S&P 500 Index (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) lost seven points, or 0.4%, to end at 1,785 Thursday ahead of the much-anticipated data.

J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) shares ended as the benchmark index's worst performer, slumping 8.4% as piecemeal bits of bad news built up throughout the day. J.C. Penney's 10.1% same-store sales growth in November, which already sent the stock lower yesterday, was reexamined and freshly insulted as pitiful by Wells Fargo in a research note today. Then, a hedge fund with a 5% stake in the department store announced it had sold its entire position in the company. As if that weren't enough, J.C. Penney revealed this afternoon it was under investigation by the SEC in relation to the company's liquidity and recent secondary stock offering. Shares skid more than 3% in after-hours trading.

Investors in grocer Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) also got hammered by the bearishness of a powerful hedge fund. Jana Partners, which formerly owned 6.2% of the Pleasanton, California-based company, trimmed its position by nearly a third after realizing heady gains less than three months after its initial investment. Safeway stock fell 4.6% today on the news, although long-term investors should be wary of taking the logic of a hedge fund and applying it to their personalized, individual portfolios. Activist investors like Jana Partners buy stock with the intention of shaking up the tree, making a few sweeping changes, and exiting the position -- a strategy you cannot and should not try at home. 

Lastly, shares of Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: FTR  ) fell 2.4% Thursday. The company, as its name suggests, offers communications services such as data, voice, and video to customers. Although telecom was the single worst-performing sector in the market today, there was a simpler reason behind Frontier Communications' sell-off. The stock began trading "ex-dividend" Thursday, so anyone who owned shares at market close Wednesday could sell them today, and still receive the company's next quarterly dividend. Many shareholders did just that, locking in the $0.10 per share in income while simultaneously ridding themselves of exposure to the stock. Here, again, we find a strategy more or less explicitly for institutional investors and ill-suited for individuals. There are much better ways to invest, and they don't involve day trading for a $0.10 dividend.

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