I read an interesting statistic the other day. It shouldn't surprise you too much that a huge number of stocks -- more than four-fifths of the companies in the Russell 3000 index -- have lost money so far in 2008. A sixth of them have lost at least half their value. (Remember that the Russell 3000 is an index of America's 3,000 biggest companies, and that together, they make up about 98% of the U.S. stock market. So in a sense, the Russell 3000 represents the entire U.S. stock market.)

An initial reaction to the news about the widespread negative returns might be along the lines of "oh my goodness!" But think about it: The overall stock market hasn't exactly been sitting still. Both the Russell 3000 and the S&P 500, as of this writing, are down some 35% over the past year -- that's kind of ... huge. When the market is down so sharply, is it really newsworthy to note that most companies are down? It's more interesting that some have gone up.

Looking at the top 10 holdings of the iShares Russell 3000 Index (IWV), an exchange-traded fund (ETF) based on the index, I see that all 10 of them are underwater so far this year. Here are a few of the biggest losers:


Ranking in Index

Year-To-Date Return

General Electric (NYSE:GE)



Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)






Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)



Given all that, it strikes me as almost a surprise that 20% of the index has positive returns. Interestingly, holding No. 11, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), is up nearly 17%. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), a bank you'd expect to be beleaguered like its brethren, is down only 7%, and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) is up almost 5%.

There are lessons here. For one thing, if you invest in index funds, as many should do, you're right to look at the overall performance of the index. But if you're in individual stocks, know that although a slumping economy can drag down most stocks, some will nevertheless continue to shine. (Indeed, some doubled and tripled in value over the past year.) There will be a wide range of results. Many fallen stocks will recover over time, while others will continue growing throughout the downturn. So choose your holdings carefully, and prepare to be patient.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Microsoft, General Electric, and Wal-Mart. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Wal-Mart Stores and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.