The Winners and Losers of 2014
"I'm too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh."
That's how Adlai Stevenson (channeling Abe Lincoln) summed up the feeling of losing a presidential election.
Investors who bet on some of the market's worst performers in 2014 can surely relate. Though it was another strong year overall, even the prettiest dog occasionally gets fleas.
So let's start fumigating.
The worst bets of 2014
Let's start with the undisputed worst investment of the year -- Bitcoin. For those not in the know, Bitcoin is an unregulated cryptocurrency/payment system invented in 2008 by a shadowy figure who calls himself Satoshi Nakamoto. It's essentially anonymous virtual money.
What could go wrong there, right?
Plenty. A Bitcoin bubble pushed its worth to more than $1,000 in January. Investors became convinced Bitcoin represented a radical new future of unregulated, decentralized currency.
Then 650,000 bitcoins worth hundreds of millions of dollars went missing from Mt. Gox, a Bitcoin exchange site. Japanese police believe it may have been an inside job.
Bitcoin's value has plummeted about 70-percent in the wake of the theft.
Twitter hasn't misplaced hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet that's about all that's gone right in 2015.
The stock has tanked, down around 40-percent. Analysts have been harping on the platform's troubling lack of user engagement. User growth is also below projections.
With younger generations gravitating toward platforms such as Tumblr and Snapchat, Twitter's future is hardly assured. The company seems to have a core problem: people join, fail to gain followers or engage much with other users, then depart for other services.
Without a fundamental change, it's hard to see how that changes. Yet at $35-$40, the stock is a reasonably good bet for 2015.
While poor years from Twitter and Bitcoin aren't exactly shocking, our third year-end loser is more of a surprise.
I'm talking about oil. Prices started to weaken over the summer. Then the crisis in Ukraine warmed up. Russia and her oil-dependent petro-economy rebuffed Western efforts to halt the conflict.
Oil prices plummeted. The Russian rouble tanked.
Supply is now outpacing demand. That's due in part to the U.S. ramping up production in places like North Dakota.
The price of oil has dropped roughly in half, all the way down to $57 a barrel by the end of 2014.
That makes it an undeniable loser -- along with Russia's economy.
Three cheers for 2014's big winners
Let's start with IPOs. Global IPO issuance reached peaks not seen since 2010 in 2014. United States-based IPOs are up 25-percent over 2013.
The technology sector had a particularly good run. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's huge public offering helped the tech space set a one year record for IPO proceeds raised.
The U.S. dollar also deserves a serious pat on the head. The end of quantitative easing and robust growth helped push the dollar to a four-year high.
A strong dollar is a great indicator for economic health, so this is great news for Americans -- especially those planning a trip overseas.
Finally, let's give a nod to the Matthews India Fund. Sure, you almost certainly didn't benefit, but the fund was up 59-percent in 2014.
That return pales in comparison to Skyworks Solutions. The semiconductor firm jumped more than 150-percent in 2014, making it one of the year's best performers.
If you owned it, a tip of the cap. And if you were heavily invested in Bitcoin, oil or Twitter, keep your chin up.
It might hurt too much to laugh right now, but we're going to help move you into the winners' column in 2015.