5 Big Losers in Q1

Did your portfolio take a hit this past quarter? Join the club. Winners were hard to come by for most investors that were long the market, and a few stocks got downright pummeled over the past three months. Thirteen different stocks surrendered losses of more than 80%. Let's go over a few of the market's biggest stinkers so far in 2008.

Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC  ) -88.2%
Things could have been worse. Just imagine if JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) hadn't upped its controversial bailout bid for the fallen investment banker from $2 to $10 per share.

There's no point in recounting the collapse of Bear Stearns. Everyone already knows how JPMorgan and the Fed orchestrated a $2-a-share buyout, later sweetened fivefold by JPMorgan. That's what actually kept Bear Stearns from becoming the worst performer so far in 2008. That honor belongs to Sharper Image.

Thornburg Mortgage (NYSE: TMA  ) -86.9%
Stocks can deteriorate with amazing speed. A year ago, Thornburg was a star pupil. The company's healthy dividend and penchant for high-quality loans made it a refreshing alternative to the lesser subprime collapses.

Things haven't gone so well in recent months. The dividend is all but gone. Margin calls are threatening the company's liquidity. The once-dependable stock is now the poster child for volatility. Despite the occasional uptick, shares have been headed downward on the whole.

R.H. Donnelly (NYSE: RHD  ) -86.1%
You don't yet need to rifle through the yellow pages for a hearse to wheel R.H. Donnelly away, but it would probably appreciate the business. The company publishes many of the print and online yellow page telephone directories.

Local search may be a huge mantra for the search engine giants -- and the actual model for smaller companies like Local.com (Nasdaq: LOCM  ) -- but it hasn't been working for Donnelly. Still, the company isn't going away. It expects to post $820 million to $870 million in operating income on $2.6 billion to $2.7 billion in revenue this year.

So what rocked the stock? The biggest hit came in late February, when shares were nearly cut in half after disappointing quarterly reports and the surprise resignation of the head of the company's online division. The market doesn't like uncertainty, especially when it's not in the book.

SiRF Technology Holdings (Nasdaq: SIRF  ) -79.7%
This GPS chip maker lost its way in early February, shocking investors when it issued a first-quarter outlook that called for a loss, even though the market was expecting a profit. The hosed-down guidance came on the same day that the company saw its fourth-quarter profits erode dramatically.

SiRF's stock lost more than half of its value in a single day on that double dose of hurt, destroying shareholders who figured they'd found the perfect way to piggyback off the success of GPS navigation devices.

Idearc (NYSE: IAR  ) -79.3%
Misery loves company; like R.H. Donnelly, Idearc publishes yellow page directories. Its SuperPages.com, and its role in putting out the Verizon Yellow Pages, have it facing the same negative sentiment as Donnelly. 

Idearc hasn't helped its own cause, with its CEO retiring back in February for health reasons after just a few days on the job. Ouch. It also doesn't send a positive message when you slash your dividend, as Idearc did last week.

Last call for pessimism
Is this the end of the bloodletting for this past quarter's losers? It could be. All five of the stocks kicked off the first trading day of the second quarter with higher share prices. Thornburg even saw its stock climb nearly 20%, but I already warned you about the rocky volatility there.

With the exception of feast or famine at Thornburg -- which may very well be the best or worst stock of the second quarter -- the other companies will likely deliver more consistent results. Bear Stearns already has an exit strategy. Donnelly and Idearc remain profitable. Investors are already braced for a disappointing quarter out of SiRF.

Bottom-feeders should be cautious here, though it's easy to see why value hounds and vultures may be circling around some of these stocks. Death knells can become dinner bells. You just have to work up the appetite.


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