I took a look at the biggest winners of the Nasdaq 100 index last week. It's only fair that I give the dogs their day in the sun.

A fashionably early CNNMoney article explored the top performers -- and underperformers -- within several popular indices. Since the article did most of the legwork, let's see whether we can dig deeper into what went wrong at some of the surprising losers in the weighted Nasdaq 100 index.


2007 Returns 

Sepracor (NASDAQ:SEPR)


Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC)




Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)


Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP)


*Source: Baseline, through Dec. 19, 2007.

Let's start with what may be the biggest shocker: Starbucks. Did asbestos creep into the company's ground coffee beans? Are consumers finally too smart to pay more for a single cup of coffee than an entire burger-chain value meal?

Defending the mermaid
Sorry, cynics, Starbucks isn't shrinking by any stretch. The company continues to expand aggressively worldwide. Positive comps prove that folks are still flocking to their local Starbucks.

Alas, Starbucks has simply been exposed as a mere mortal over the past year. Where the company once obliterated Wall Street's profit targets, the company merely met analyst expectations in each of the past five quarters.

Starbucks continues to grow -- it's just doing so more predictably now. There's no risk that the company will run out of real estate, though. The world is too big for global saturation, no matter how many Starbucks locations crop up within a stone's throw of most metropolitan areas.

Starbucks is now fetching just 24 times this fiscal year's earnings estimate. It was trading roughly twice as loftily a year ago. That's sanity, mortality, and a compelling near-term value, all brewed into a darn fine cuppa joe.

Beyond the beans
The Nasdaq 100 can be pretty cruel, with year-end reshuffling that reeks of window-dressing. The index is actually booting some of its losers -- like Sepracor and Ericsson -- as if they hit some flat notes on American Idol. To be fair, their singing voices could use a bit of tuning up.

On the content-delivery network side, Level 3 finds itself in a cutthroat market with niche leader Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM).

Leap Wireless is growing with thrifty cell-phone users thanks to its unlimited, flat-rate wireless plans, but that same penny-pinching demographic is being rocked by the subprime credit crunch. Ericsson's crime is that it has lost its edge in making cell-phone handsets.

Sepracor's smackdown can be traced to this summer's abysmal quarterly report, which found sales of its flagship asthma drug tanking; Medicare turned its back on reimbursing patient outlays for Xoponex, beyond the equivalent cost of generic alternatives.

It's a small world of wide losses
Much like every year, there's an odd assortment of drugmakers, cell-phone specialists, and baristas on the list. Even if the Nasdaq is a magnet for the tech world's brightest stars, it usually harbors fallen darlings within several different sectors.

Some investors may approach the list with vulturish interest, especially since several of the losers are still profitable. Tread carefully. With the exception of Starbucks, the other four stinkers earned their scars by posting lower earnings (or wider losses) this year.

In short, you get what you pay for. Research accordingly over the holidays, my friend.

Akamai is a selection in the Rule Breakers growth stock newsletter service. See all our past issues and David Gardner's latest recommendations with a free 30-day trial subscription. Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't have an index named after him, though he's warming up to the sound of the Munarriz 100. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. Rick is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy has perfect pitch.