The Super Bowl has its blockbuster halftime shows. Baseball has its All-Star Game. And to celebrate the midpoint of 2009, I thought it might be fun to look back at the contest we started at the beginning of the year and check in on what you picked to be the year's best stocks.

Of course, a lot has happened since our writers gave you 14 stocks to choose from back in December. Those who had hoped that last November's lows would prove to be the turning point of the bear market were quickly disappointed, as March saw the S&P dip well below its lowest levels in 2008. But following the drop that lopped off another 25% from the broad market index, stocks recovered every bit of those losses and more -- and now the S&P stands just a few points away from where it ended last year.

So without further ado, let's take a look at the top five performers among our list so far in 2009:




Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)


Core Laboratories (NYSE:CLB)






Source: Yahoo! Finance. As of July 6.

Notice anything disturbing? When readers like you voted on which of our 14 selections would perform the best this year, none of those stocks made the top three. Here's how the top reader selections have done so far:


YTD Return

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)


General Electric


Altria (NYSE:MO)


In fact, even if you throw in the three honorable-mention candidates, only Google succeeded in cracking the top-five list. Four of the six top vote-getters have actually lost money so far this year. That compares to a very small positive return for the S&P 500 including dividends, and an average return for the 14 picks of almost 11%.

Investing isn't a sprint
But I'm not counting our readers out yet. It's always hard to try to make short-term predictions, and the one thing that nearly all of the 14 selections have in common is that they weren't picked solely as opportunistic quick trades.

In particular, as blue-chip leaders, the three top reader picks all have things going for them that could turn into long-term success. GE is poised to capture market share in clean-energy initiatives that may take years to develop completely. In a daring move, Altria has lent its support to FDA regulation of tobacco products. And while Johnson & Johnson hasn't entirely escaped the recession, it has managed to hold up quite well -- especially when you consider that the stock lost less than 10% during 2008.

Meanwhile, most of the current year-to-date leaders were already playing catch-up. Of the five stocks above, four lost 40% or more of their value during 2008. Only Netflix avoided that fate, eking out a decent gain last year. Whether those companies can build on their recent gains remains to be seen -- but looking forward to 2010 and beyond, investors shouldn't necessarily expect to see six-month returns of 30%-50% repeat themselves.

How to win
Of course, for most investors, the actual results of a contest like this are meaningless. Keeping score by looking at returns over a short period may help you keep tabs on your portfolio, but unless you've given up on long-term investing, the returns that are more important to you are those further down the line.

Nerve-wracking crashes and soaring rallies like we've seen so far this year threaten to take even the most stolid investors out of their comfort zone. But if you have a long enough time horizon to let short-term fluctuations work themselves out, you don't have to worry about which stocks win 2009's contest. Buying good stocks too early may mean that you don't always make money quickly -- but great stocks reward investors' patience with returns that dwarf even the best one-year gains.

What do you think? Will the top reader picks claw their way back to the top, or will the current leaders hold on? Let me know what you think by adding your comment below.

Read more on how to deal with today's challenging stock markets:

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger likes playing contests but is solidly a long-term investor. He owns shares of Starbucks, General Electric, and Altria. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation., Netflix, and Starbucks are  Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks, which is also an  Inside Value pick. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy is always a winning pick.