Only five stocks among the 30 that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed out 2017 with lower share prices than they started the year with. That’s really some accomplishment in a year that saw the Dow rise by more than 24%.
Some of the losers have struggled with growth for years while others were caught in an industry downturn that they couldn’t rise above. Two have new CEOs, one was hit by a massive ransomware attack, one was slow to react to intense competitive pressure and one simply has been too slow for too long.
Here’s a brief look at the five losers: General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).
This was one of two Dow companies to change its CEO. Jeff Immelt, one of our worst CEOs of the year, was replaced in August by John Flannery, who watched the stock drift lower for two months before revealing his new strategy for the company. That didn’t help though, mainly because the strategy involves cutting costs, selling assets and generally getting smaller. Maybe the narrower focus will pay off, but investors aren’t so sure. Shares dropped nearly 45% in 2017 and closed the year at $17.45, just 20 cents above the 52-week low.
The first hit to the stock price came when Warren Buffett decided in May that he’d defended the tech giant long enough. Buffett cited increasing competition as the reason for Big Blue’s problems, but in reality the transformation of the company to a more cloud-oriented business under CEO Ginni Rometty (another of our worst CEOs of 2017) has been painfully slow. There is little evidence that 2018 will be much different from 2017, when the stock price fell by 7.6%.
Exxon Mobil suffered through a poor first half of 2017 as crude oil prices fell into the $40 a barrel range after opening the year around $56. On Friday crude oil settled at just over $60 a barrel and Exxon, like many other oil producers, is expected to maintain a cautious approach to capital spending and do more to reward shareholders with buybacks and dividends. That should bolster the share price, but won’t do much to boost the company’s valuation, which is based primarily on its stockpile of proved barrels. Shares closed the year down 7.3%.
This pharmaceutical giant took a major hit from a ransomware attack in June that ended up costing the company more than $175 million in one-time charges and about $125 million in lost revenues in the third quarter. Worse, though is falling profits, down 48% for the trailing 12 months. The company has also withdrawn its application for European regulatory approval of its lung-cancer treatment and abandoned research on its hepatitis C drug. The stock dropped 4.4% in 2017.
A buzzsaw of competition hit Verizon early in the year, when a competitor introduced an unlimited data package that forced Verizon to counter, something it did not particularly want to do. The company also completed its purchase of Yahoo, part of an effort to diversify into something other than a provider of fat pipes. Then the FCC rolled back Obama-era net neutrality rules that potentially will allow Verizon and other internet backbone carriers to charge more for faster speeds. All this adds up to a view of Verizon as a value play for 2018 because the shares are just so cheap. The stock closed the year down just 0.8%, a sharp improvement from its 18% loss in early July.