You can break the stock market into two categories: stocks that are on their way up, and stocks that are on their way out. In general, once a stock breaks, it takes a lot of effort to execute a solid turnaround and get the share price moving in the right direction again.
Yet just because it takes effort doesn't mean it can't be done. Today, let's look at four stocks in the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) that sank to nearly the bottom of the index in terms of market capitalization, but which have since posted some impressive gains to get moving in the right direction once again.
First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), up 69% in the past year
The solar industry has gone through a huge amount of turmoil in the past year, as overcapacity from China and falling subsidies from across the world threatened the viability of many solar companies. But industry leader First Solar was able to weather the storm, using its size advantage and project backlog to help it stay profitable even in the face of bankruptcies and other financial difficulties among its Chinese rivals.
Much of the stock's gains have come in just the past week, as First Solar took a big step forward in solar- efficiency with a new 16.1%-efficient module. Its acquisition of TetraSun could make it even more efficient, and combined with guidance that greatly exceeded analysts' expectations and sent the stock up about 50% in a single day, First Solar appears to be on the mend in a major way.
Dean Foods (NYSE:DF), up 59%
This time last year, dairy giant Dean Foods was dealing with high commodity prices and squeezed margins as many of its buyers chose to emphasize private-label milk at cheaper prices. But in response, Dean finally started passing through costs to customers, and the results have been positive.
The biggest boost for the stock has come from its foray into organics, with its WhiteWave spinoff representing the culmination of its successful strategy. As Dean continues shedding noncore assets in order to reduce its massive debt burden, it should be able to reinvent itself as a pure play on milk -- with attendant challenges but also substantial opportunities.
GameStop (NYSE:GME), up 55%
GameStop has suffered from the rise of Internet gaming, as the console-based games that it depends on for both new and used sales have fallen in popularity. With stale product offerings both on the hardware and software sides of the business and the move toward digital distribution, GameStop appeared endangered.
But now, big console makers are planning new offerings, which GameStop hopes will reinvigorate the industry. Given how long gamers have had to wait for a PlayStation 4, pent-up demand should lead to vigorous sales, and that in turn should give GameStop a much-needed lift.
MetroPCS (NASDAQ:TMUS), up 34%
In the fast-moving mobile revolution, the prepaid service that MetroPCS has traditionally relied on seemed backward by comparison. But when No. 4 network player T-Mobile made a bid for the company back in October, the company suddenly gained the prospect of becoming a major player in the industry.
After some restructuring, it looks as if the deal will go through, despite some opposition from hedge-fund investor John Paulson. The result will be a much larger MetroPCS, and although the company will still have to find a viable niche in the U.S. market, it will have a lot more capacity to do so.
What lies ahead?
These four stocks have gotten a second chance at success. That doesn't mean they'll have a prosperous future handed to them on a silver platter, but with a fair shot, the four companies look a whole lot better than they did a year ago.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of Dean Foods Company and GameStop. 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.