The Best and Worst Performing Stocks of 2015

It has been a zigzagging year so far for the major indexes, and it looks like we are about to embark on another major zag. As things stand now, the S&P is about even year to date, as is the Dow, with the Nasdaq eking out a 5% gain as of last week’s close.

So index buyers so far in 2015 are about even, but that does not mean that there haven’t been some serious gainers and losers thus far. Here is a quick look of the five biggest gainers and losers on the major exchanges since January 1.

The Worst

Apollo Education Group

Apollo Education Group Inc. (NASDAQ: APOL) has had a miserable year, with shares down 62% so far. Most of the drop was concentrated in two trading days — January 8 and March 25 — after consecutive disappointing quarterly earnings. Concern focused on falling enrollment in its for-profit schools, blamed on increased criticism from government regulators.

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The online retailer that targets moms and their kids with special deal offers only went public in late 2013, and it has not been doing well since then. Zulily Inc. (NASDAQ: ZU) shares are down 47% on the year, most of that on one day in February when both revenues and earnings missed by a long-shot. After opening the year at $23.40, the stock plunged to as low as $9.09 before recovering a bit. We are now at $12.40, with Zulily treading water.

Micron Technologies

Demand for personal computers (PCs) keeps falling, and Micron Technologies Inc.’s (NASDAQ: MU) earnings and guidance issued late last month were worse than the most pessimistic of estimates. Shares had fallen 32% before then, but the final drubbing on June 25 brought shares down another 18% for a year-to-date loss of over 45%. If it had a dividend, it may be worth picking up on the cheap for an income investment at a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of only 6.3, but for now it continues to be a falling knife in a pantry of very loose cutlery.

This satellite communications company is an interesting standout case in extreme debt. Intelsat S.A. (NYSE: I) earnings did not disappoint this year, but it has one of the most lopsided balance sheets that even rivals famously bankrupt Caesars. The company is in debt over 15 times its market cap of $1 billion. Intelsat would have to succeed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations instantaneously in order to be able to grow itself out of its nearly $15 billion debt hole. If interest rates tick up the slightest bit, the company will be destroyed. It is down over 40% on the year.

Chesapeake Energy

Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) is a casualty of the decline in the price of oil. After cruising through the first half of last year, the company was blindsided by the biggest crash in oil since 2008, and it took a huge balance sheet impairment of nearly $5 billion. Debt is also very high at 150% of market cap, so coming out of this decline will be difficult. It may be worth buying for a brief bounce, but for bottom pickers in energy, best pick a company battered, but in better financial shape for the long term. Chesapeake is down 45% year to date.

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The Best

Whether this is taken ominously or as a piece of good news, all top five performers this year have been biotechs.

Eagle Pharmaceuticals

Eagle Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: EGRX) began the year at $15.50, climbed all the way up past $92, and has now pulled back to around $75. It is up 382% on the year. Eagle is in the business of reformulating old drugs to make them better and more easy to use. It is partnered with Teva on some lucrative projects (a partnership that has arguably contributed the most to its rise), has two potential approvals coming in the next few months and just had its first profitable quarter.

Heron Therapeutics

This biotech is up 200% on the year, 144% since late May when it reported positive Phase 3 results for its anti-nausea post-chemotherapy drug Sustol. Sustol was shown to be effective in preventing nausea for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy for up to five days post treatment. Though medical cannabis has also been proven to accomplish the same thing, since it is illegal in most states and taboo even where it is allowed, Heron Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: HRTX) looks set to make a lot of money. Market size looks to be close to $1 billion at optimum.

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Horizon Pharma

Horizon Pharma PLC (NASDAQ: HZNP) is something of a biotech roll-up company. It is up 144% on the year by acquiring drugs on the cheap on marketing them successfully to expand their sales. It acquired two key drugs late last year that have proven to contribute meaningfully to its revenues, and it bought Hyperion for over $1 billion this year to further expand its portfolio. Horizon is a risky one because, while its revenues are growing, it is not yet profitable and it spends a lot.

Synageva BioPharma

Synageva BioPharma Corp. (NASDAQ: GEVA) was acquired by Alexion for $8 billion, a deal that was announced in early May. Alexion was after a drug called Kanuma, which is under FDA review. It treats a rare cause of fatty liver and is expected to be blockbuster. Its big 157% move on the year is entirely attributable to its deal with Alexion.


Retrophin Inc. (NASDAQ: RTRX) was a controversial stock when former CEO Martin Shkreli headed operations until September last year. He was fired for impersonating rappers on Twitter to promote the company, as well as other strange practices. He did get Retrophin off to a running start, however, and the recent approval of Cholbam for bile acid synthesis disorder has put it on the move again since March. The company focuses on rare diseases and is up 160% in 2015.

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