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These Were the 1st Quarter's Worst S&P 500 Stocks

By Dan Caplinger – Apr 8, 2018 at 3:02PM

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Three very different companies top the list.

2018 started off on the wrong foot for the S&P 500 (^GSPC 1.97%). After big gains in early January, a market correction helped send the benchmark to a loss of more than 1% by the end of the first quarter.

There was no shortage of losing stocks within the index, with nearly 90 stocks falling 10% or more during the period. Yet three companies stand out as seeing especially large declines.

Below, we'll look more closely at these losing stocks to see whether shareholders need to be concerned about further potential drops during the remainder of the year.

S&P winners from 2018's first quarter

Stock

Total Return

L Brands (BBWI 2.85%)

(35.7%)

Albemarle (ALB 3.07%)

(27.2%)

General Mills (GIS 1.05%)

(23.4%)

Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

L Brands deals with disappointment

Apparel retailer L Brands didn't waste any time getting off to a poor start, seeing double-digit percentage declines during the first week of the year after issuing guidance for its fourth-quarter results. The holiday period was more sluggish than expected for the company behind Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, and growth in comps wasn't enough to keep L Brands from seeing earnings come in toward the low end of its previous guidance range.

Later in the quarter, L Brands predicted that the first quarter would also be relatively weak. Although actual numbers for the holidays were slightly better in some ways than it had initially projected, L Brands pointed to a failure for the retailer to live up to its typical post-holiday performance. Until the overall retail climate gets more favorable, L Brands could see further challenges.

Storefront of Victoria's Secret store.

Image source: L Brands.

Albemarle gets the lithium blues

Albemarle's declines during the quarter were tied to its primary product. The company is the world's largest producer of lithium, and the element has been instrumental in meeting soaring demand for batteries, even amid somewhat limited global supplies. That's helped bolster Albemarle stock in recent years.

Yet now, producers are looking at plans to expand capacity in order to meet demand. That has many investors fearing that favorable conditions in the lithium market will come to an end, harming what has been a lucrative business for Albemarle. It's too early to admit defeat yet, but investors aren't giving Albemarle much benefit of the doubt in terms of waiting to see a marked deterioration in its business before cutting back on their positions.

General Mills deals with a tough quarter

Finally, General Mills also disappointed investors with its quarterly report during the period. The food giant said that sales were up just 2% in its fiscal third quarter, with a 9% rise in operating profit. Yet what's hurting General Mills and many of its peers is rising costs of the raw materials that go into its processed-food offerings. That gives General Mills an unattractive dilemma: either eat higher costs itself or become less competitive in a fierce industry environment.

Falling earnings forecasts aren't good news, but General Mills is remaining aggressive in trying to come up with a viable growth strategy. The company said it would purchase Blue Buffalo Pet Products (NASDAQ: BUFF) in an $8 billion deal, and further diversification into the pet-food arena could help General Mills find new avenues for boosting customer demand. A rich valuation for Blue Buffalo wasn't entirely received well, though, and General Mills will have to demonstrate the value of the acquisition in producing cost synergies and other advantages down the road.

Be smart with your stocks

These stocks haven't done well, and it's entirely possible that they'll keep seeing pain in the near future. Among these stocks, though, it looks like General Mills has the clearest plan forward to try to rebound from its losses -- although Albemarle and L Brands also have solid positions in their respective industries that could drive comebacks in the near future.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Bath & Body Works, Inc. Stock Quote
Bath & Body Works, Inc.
BBWI
$35.38 (2.85%) $0.98
General Mills, Inc. Stock Quote
General Mills, Inc.
GIS
$78.79 (1.05%) $0.82
Albemarle Corporation Stock Quote
Albemarle Corporation
ALB
$277.95 (3.07%) $8.27
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD) Stock Quote
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD)
^GSPC
$3,719.04 (1.97%) $71.75

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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