Analysts predict the Standard & Poor's 500 Index will rise 6.4% in 2012, reports Bloomberg, the lowest returns since 2005. Bloomberg compiled a survey of 12 strategists' estimates and found most, but not all, are erring on the side of caution.
Fears of global budget deficits have dimmed the horizons for many equity analysts. Some believe "the prospect of a global slowdown will curb investors' appetite for equities" and keep the S&P index from rallying as it has in years past.
Others are more cautious: "Adam Parker of Morgan Stanley, whose estimate for 2011 proved the most accurate among current analysts, forecast a loss of 7.2 percent as Europe's debt crisis will keep volatility above historical levels." His prediction is the most pessimistic.
"A year is a long time" says Jonathan Golub, market strategist at UBS. He remains mildly cautious about 2012, predicting the index will climb to 1,325 in 2012, the same forecast he gave at the beginning of last year. "Will there be better entry points than right now? We think the answer is yes."
And still others feel the market is promising: According to Bloomberg the bulls at Oppenheimer & Co. and Citigroup say record profits and improving U.S. economic data will propel stocks.
In all, analysts forecasts polled by Bloomberg estimate the S&P 500 index will climb to 1,388. This accounts for investor concerns relating to the upcoming presidential election, and growing debt in China and Europe.
The S&P index was virtually unchanged in 2011, adding 11.33 points, or 0.9%, to reach 1,265.33. It started the year at 1,257.64. The 2011 gains were about 8.3% below the 1,371 average strategist estimate from 12 months earlier -- the biggest miss since 2008.
Business section: Investing ideas
Stock market analysts appear to be very gloomy about the outlook for the global economy, which should raise a flag if you're a contrarian investor.
To help you get started exploring, we started with the 200 worst performing S&P 500 stocks during 2012.
To refine the list, we collected data on short-seller trends, and identified the names that have seen a significant decrease in shares shorted during the current month (i.e., short-sellers think the upside of these stocks outweighs the downside)
Contrarian alert: Sophisticated investors, like short-sellers, think these loser stocks are going higher -- do you agree?
List sorted by performance over the last year. (Click here to access free, interactive tools to analyze these ideas.)
2. United States Steel
3. SunTrust Banks
4. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide: Operates as a hotel and leisure company worldwide. The stock lost 19.44% over the last year. Shares shorted have decreased from 11.82M to 9.53M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.21% of the company's float of 188.91M shares.
5. Cliffs Natural Resources
6. Allegheny Technologies: Produces and sells specialty metals worldwide. The stock lost 11.57% over the last year. Shares shorted have decreased from 6.36M to 5.28M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.09% of the company's float of 99.03M shares.
7. Vulcan Materials: Engages in the production and sale of construction aggregates for the infrastructure industry primarily in the United States. The stock lost 8.93% over the last year. Shares shorted have decreased from 20.05M to 18.23M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.41% of the company's float of 128.64M shares.
8. Gannett: Operates as a media and marketing solutions company in the United States and internationally. The stock lost 8.66% over the last year. Shares shorted have decreased from 26.04M to 21.51M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.91% of the company's float of 236.63M shares.
Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned above. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.
List compiled by Eben Esterhuizen, CFA. Kapitall's Eben Esterhuizen and Rebecca Lipman do not own any of the shares mentioned above. Short data sourced from Yahoo! Finance.
Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix and Vulcan Materials. 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.