As 2011 comes to a close, it's a great time to look back at what happened to the stocks that interest you. By making sure you know the important things that a company accomplished -- as well as the setbacks it experienced -- you can make a better decision about whether it's a smart investment for your portfolio.

Today, let's take a look at Stillwater Mining (NYSE: SWC). As one of the only platinum and palladium mines in North America, Stillwater has a strong position in an important niche market. But volatility in the precious metals along with some questionable strategic decisions sent the shares for a loop this year. Below, I'll take a closer look at the events that moved Stillwater Mining's shares this year.

Stats on Stillwater Mining

Year-to-Date Stock Return (50.8%)
Market Cap $1.21 billion
Total Revenue, Trailing 12 Months $791 million
Net Income, Trailing 12 Months $136 million
1-Year Revenue Growth 54.2%
1-Year Profit Growth 384.9%
CAPS Rating (out of 5) ****

Sources: S&P Capital IQ; Motley Fool CAPS.

How did Stillwater Mining do this year?
Stillwater Mining operates two mines in Montana that produce platinum and palladium. Much rarer than gold, platinum group metals haven't seen quite the run-up that gold and silver have in recent years, but they've still climbed sharply.

Stillwater has been able to capitalize on those high prices with better-than-expected production as well. In its most recent quarter, the company reported 6% production volume growth, combining with higher metals prices to beat analyst estimates soundly.

But Stillwater made a move earlier this year that investors really didn't like. It paid a huge premium to buy Peregrine Metals, which owns a big gold and copper project in Argentina. Not only is the mine not yet producing any metal, but it also takes away Stillwater's status as a pure-play platinum-group metal company -- leaving only North American Palladium (AMEX: PAL) as an alternative.

Still, the popularity of platinum and palladium as alternatives to gold seems to remain strong. The ETFS Physical Platinum (NYSE: PPLT) and ETFS Physical Palladium (NYSE: PALL) combined own about $1 billion in platinum and palladium, showing that investor demand could underpin platinum-group metal prices going forward.

Given how rough a year it was for miners like Brigus Gold (AMEX: BRD) and Great Panther Silver (AMEX: GPL) with highly volatile metals prices, Stillwater's poor performance shouldn't be all that shocking. If platinum and palladium prices stay high, though, Stillwater should do well going forward.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.