It's been a pretty kind year to stock investors, with the S&P showing a 12.8% gain in 2010. Of course, kindness might still feel relative after a lost decade of negative returns that included the nauseating depths and panic of the financial crisis.

Still, not every stock sees gains when a rising tide lifts all boats. Here's a list of this year's 10 worst performers in the networking and electronics industries, ignoring companies that have gone bankrupt or sunk below $200 million in market capitalization.

Company

Percent Return in 2010

China Security and Surveillance Technology (NYSE: CSR)

    (32.1)

Brocade Communications Systems (Nasdaq: BRCD)

    (30.8)

Aviat Networks

    (27.6)

Tekelec (Nasdaq: TKLC)

    (21.8)

Comtech Telecommunications

    (20.4)

Itron (Nasdaq: ITRI)

    (17.3)

Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO)

    (15.5)

Funtalk China Holdings

    (12.7)

Echelon (Nasdaq: ELON)

    (11.4)

SMART Modular Technologies (Nasdaq: SMOD)

    (7.95)


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Only includes companies listed on U.S. exchanges that contain a market capitalization greater than $200 million.

When I compiled a list of the 10 best performing stocks from these two industries in 2010, smaller networking companies dominated. That came largely at the expense of industry kingpin Cisco, which has struggled to compete in several key niches of networking technology. Cisco itself not only was unable to expand in several of these growth markets, but also saw its share price lag the market by 28%. Given Cisco's inability to perform better in key markets and competitors pushing into networking that could use toeholds in key technologies, I proposed that 2011 could see a buyout swell in the industry.

One company whose name is constantly swirling in buyout talks, but has yet to be scooped up, is Brocade Communications. The company has large product portfolios not only in switches, but also in storage area network products. However, despite shopping itself, the company has been unable to find a buyer. During the year, it also experienced numerous setbacks, including weak guidance last quarter, which led to a 31% falloff in its share price during 2010.

The electronics side saw a veritable grab bag of companies underperforming. The biggest loser in the industry, China Security and Surveillance, suffered along with fellow Chinese small-cap peers. Itron posted record profits in 2010, but like EnerNOC and other companies making smart electricity products, it saw investors lose faith in the industry. Finally, SMART Modular Technologies recently collapsed after reporting poor guidance of its own last quarter.

So what's in store for networking next year? I suspect we'll see a string of buyouts. While companies like F5 Networks and Riverbed might be a little too richly priced to attract a bidding war, there's plenty of other small fish in the sea to be stalked by networking aspirant HP, as well as Cisco and Juniper.

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Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. You can follow his articles and musings on Twitter @bleekertech. Juniper Networks is a Motley Fool Big Short short-sale pick. The Fool has created a bull call spread position on Cisco Systems. Motley Fool Alpha has opened a short position on Juniper Networks. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Cisco Systems. EnerNOC is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool owns shares of EnerNOC. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.