Winter brings good cheer to skiers who want to plunge down the nearest mountain. But the risk of becoming overly familiar with the local trees keeps me off the slopes.
Racing to the bottom is something investors don't like to do when it comes to the markets. They tend to avoid stocks that have fallen over the course of many years. Last December, I highlighted 10 Canadian stocks that had shrivelled to less than one-10th of their 10-year highs.
Pause for a moment and try to put yourself into the shoes of shareholders who held these companies and lost more than 90 per cent of their money over the course of a decade.
Fast forward a year and something rather unexpected happened. The long-term losers turned into short-term winners. They gained an average of 120 per cent from Dec. 10, 2015, to Dec. 9, 2016, not including dividends. The bounce back was impressive with eight of the 10 stocks posting gains of more than 50 per cent.
The best returns were generated by Vancouver-based Teck Resources, which chalked up a stunning capital gain of 470 per cent as it advanced from $5.15 a share to $29.37 a share. (At the other end of the scale, Calgary-based Athabasca Oil had the worst showing. It slipped from $1.61 a share to $1.46 a share and lost 9 per cent.)
Over all, an impressive rebound – but it would be unwise to expect such outsized returns to continue.
After all, the market's long-time laggards tend to be a highly speculative bunch. Investors who buy them are basically betting that the companies will survive and, unfortunately, sometimes they don't. On the other hand, firms that manage to stabilize their businesses, or turn them around, can make impressive gains from very low levels.
This year's crop of losers can be examined in the accompanying table and each one trades below one-10th of its 10-year high. The table is sorted by market capitalization from large to small and, just like last year, not a single firm earned a profit on a trailing 12-month basis.
Nor do industry analysts expect any of them to earn a profit over the next 12 months.
The four largest stocks on the list are returnees from last year but two of them have already bounced off their lows. Penn West Petroleum gained 92 per cent since last December while Pengrowth Energy advanced 71 per cent. The fact that both Calgary-based firms still trade at a tiny fraction of their 10-year highs is a testament to how far they had fallen before their recent gains.
Industry analysts are less than upbeat about the prospects for most of the companies on the list. But Toronto-based Dension Mines garnered some enthusiasm with an average buy rating despite expectations that the uranium miner will have negative earnings in both 2016 and 2017.
Dension digs for uranium in Saskatchewan and its fortunes are linked to the price of the radioactive material. Unfortunately, the price of uranium peaked before the 2008 crash and it has yet to recover. The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan made matters worse. Given the risks, it's hard to imagine that the world will warm up to nuclear power, and require more uranium, in the short term.
The prospects for stocks that trade near multiyear lows are usually quite dim. They are quintessentially bad story stocks. It's a big reason why they can surge on just a little bit of good news. The only question is whether such news will arrive.
But hitching a ride with a long-term loser shouldn't be taken lightly.
While it might result in thrilling profits for adrenaline junkies, it can also cause a portfolio to careen right into a forest of low returns.