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Today's 3 Worst Stocks in the S&P 500

By John Divine – Dec 31, 2013 at 7:45PM

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Industry dynamics and ex-dividend dates bring down these laggards in the stock market today

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

The stock market ended the year on a strong note today, as about three in every five stocks finished higher in trading. Wall Street had very little to be sour about, after all, with consumer confidence numbers tallying multiyear highs and home prices increasing at rates unseen since 2006. Even the Federal Reserve showed its confidence in the recovery earlier this month when it started scaling back on its stimulus measures, and stocks have responded in kind, ending 2013 at all-time highs. The S&P 500 Index (^GSPC 0.56%) gained 7 points, or 0.4%, to end at 1,848 Tuesday. 

First Solar (FSLR 0.43%) shareholders probably aren't so ready to usher in a new year. After all, if I were an investor I'd just want to put 2013's performance on repeat: The stock rallied 77% in the past 52 weeks alone. Today, however, wasn't quite as bullish, as First Solar shed 1.7%. Tuesday's fall, which came on anemic volume, isn't indicative of any systemic problems with the solar panel-maker, so long-term investors shouldn't be too caught up on today's minor slip. After two straight years of net losses in 2011 and 2012, let's hope 2013 was the dawn of a new day for the company, which has yet to lose a cent in the first three quarters of the year.

Coal and iron ore miner Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF -1.25%), on the other hand, has had a miserable 12 months, as a weak steel industry wreaked havoc on the stock. Underperforming the S&P by 60% this year, Cliffs Natural continued its bearish ways on Tuesday, tumbling 1.5%. Finance problems forced the company to do two things that investors hate to see: (1) dramatically reduce the dividend, and (2) issue more shares. Given these circumstances, and combined with waning steel demand, 2013 ended up being a textbook example all that can go wrong in the stock market.

Sysco (SYY 1.93%), the $21 billion food distributor, also had an early New Year's hangover on Tuesday, as the stock fell 0.7%. It's no coincidence that today's paltry decline came on Sysco's ex-dividend date, a quarterly phenomenon with dividend-paying stocks that often incites a flurry of short-term selling. To be clear, this has absolutely no connection to Sysco's long-term economics, which were strengthened earlier this month by its acquisition of private rival U.S. Foods for $3.5 billion. 

Fool contributor John Divine has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter, @divinebizkid, and on Motley Fool CAPS, @TMFDivine.

The Motley Fool recommends Sysco. 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.

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