Lately, new all-time record highs have become commonplace for the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI), with the average setting new high-water marks on more than 20 occasions so far in 2013. But even more impressive is the long-term record of performance that the Dow has established for investors whose time horizons are measured in decades rather than days. For instance, over the past 15 years, the Dow has managed to post an average annual gain of about 6%, including dividends, despite the fact that the average had already soared by 1998 because of the big bull market of the 1980s and 1990s.
Yet despite Dow's long-term strength, some of its longtime components haven't managed to keep up with its gains. With some help from S&P Capital IQ, here are three stocks that haven't quite kept up with the Dow on a total-return basis over the past 15 years.
3. DuPont (NYSE:DD)
Of the three stocks mentioned here, DuPont has been in the Dow the longest, having joined the average in 1935. Having survived the Great Depression and several economic cycles since, the company has remains a giant in the chemicals industry. Yet since 1998, the stock has only managed a total cumulative return of 16%, or about 1% per year.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the challenges that DuPont has faced is to look at how oil prices have risen over the past 15 years. With crude oil having traded just above $10 per barrel in late 1998, the explosive move higher for oil prices since then has led to greatly increased costs for the chemical giant, which needs substantial amounts of petroleum for its plastics production. The company has actually done a good job of dealing with oil costs by passing on costs to customers, but that didn't make adjusting to the new energy-price reality any easier for DuPont.
2. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ)
HP joined the Dow in 1997, in what proved to be another example of the Dow's bad timing in bringing in technology companies. Since mid-1998, the stock has basically been flat, as its dividends have been just enough to offset share-price declines.
With the tech boom already in its middle stages 15 years ago, HP has suffered from multiple crashes since then. The first came in the tech bust of 2000 to 2002, in which the company lost three-quarters of its value. Yet even though HP's swoon in the financial crisis of 2008 was actually fairly mild compared to its peers, what has hurt the tech company since 2010 has been the decline in its core PC business. Turnaround attempts have taken a long time to get moving in the right direction, but even with the recent rebound in its stock, HP has a lot of catching up to do to match the Dow's long-term returns.
1. Alcoa (NYSE:AA)
Alcoa has lost nearly 40% since 1998, and nearly all of those losses came during the market meltdown five years ago. Having soared during the bull market of the 1990s, Alcoa held its own throughout the expansionary period of the early and mid-2000s, but the aluminum giant has never properly recovered from its big losses in 2008 and 2009.
Looking forward, Alcoa continues to face challenges from tough aluminum pricing conditions and competition from Chinese producers that have created a glut of the metal on the world markets. Until the situation reverses itself and until the global economy picks up, Alcoa could continue to languish.
Dealing with laggards
Even within the Dow, some stocks don't always perform as well as you'd like over long periods of time. Yet the value of tracking a diversified set of stocks like the Dow is that you can survive bad performance from stocks like these without putting your overall returns at risk.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter: @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.