Special Report

The 7 Worst Investments of 2014

Every year, new global trends emerge, old ones play out, and the financial markets adjust. This can offer new opportunities for investors to make money if their forecasts are accurate, their investments are timely, and they choose their assets well.

But not everything always goes according to plan. Investing in commodities has largely been a money-losing exercise in 2014, with the S&P GCSI — a widely-tracked commodities index — down over 24% so far this year. Speculators who sold short the dollar have also been hit. The dollar is up against virtually every currency in the world.

Click here to see the 7 worst investments of 2014

Even in these asset classes, some investments have fared worse than others. The rouble has slid by more than 38% against the dollar so far in 2014, while brent crude oil prices fell 37%. The full effects of both these declines has yet to fully play out across global financial markets.

Some asset classes have enjoyed a bull market. Equity funds and stocks have performed well in recent years. Despite this, not every investment in equities has been profitable. Offshore driller Transocean is down more than 59% so far this year due in part to lower oil prices. The Nysa Fund, an aggressive capital appreciation mutual fund, is down 41% year to date due to investments in a number of stocks that are themselves down considerably as well.

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Yet, just because an individual investment has performed poorly in the past does not necessarily mean it will perform poorly into the future. The Nysa Fund and the Aegis High Yield Fund — the bond fund with the worst performance in the year to date — could both be among the top-performing mutual funds in 2015. Similarly, oil may recover and the rouble may rebound.

Nonetheless, each of these investments has been a source of pain for their owners in 2014. Investors who started the year with long positions in oil, investments in the Market Vectors Russia Small-Cap ETF, or with positions in Transocean lost significant amounts of money. However, for investors with a well-diversified portfolio, a long time horizon, and patience, even a major loss on an individual investment can become just a minor bump in the road in due time.

In order to identify the worst investments of 2014, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from a number of sources. Figures on mutual fund and ETF returns are from Morningstar. We excluded ETFs that aim to provide leveraged, or inverse-leveraged, daily returns from our consideration. To determine bond fund returns, we screened for bond funds exclusively. Figures on large-cap stocks are from Finviz and represent securities that are part of the S&P 500. Data on IPOs are from Renaissance Capital, and returns assume the investor bought shares at the IPO price. Commodities data are from the Stevens Continuous Futures database. Figures are adjusted by Stevens to weigh contracts based on outstanding volume and to roll contracts over at applicable end-of-the month dates. ETF, stock, IPO and futures returns are as of December 8, 2014. Mutual fund and currency pair returns are as of December 9, 2014.

These are the worst investments of 2014

1. Mutual Funds

The Nysa Fund is the worst performing mutual fund of 2014, down 41% so far this year. The fund received just one out of five stars from Morningstar, the worst rating for past performance awarded.

As of its most recent semi-annual report, filed in September, the Nysa Fund reported that, net of waivers offered, fund expenses totalled 2.76% of average net assets. That figure is actually far lower than in the past — expenses exceeded 5% in the year ending March 31 2014, and were above 4% in each of the preceding four years. Large fund holdings, as of September, included natural resources company Freeport-McMoran, shipping and deepwater drilling company DryShips, and drugmaker Dendreon. All three have recorded massive losses this year, and Dendreon even filed for bankruptcy in November.

According to Bob Cuculich, portfolio manager of the Nysa Fund, the fund should be considered a speculative investment and is designed to constitute only a small part of a well-diversified investor’s portfolio.

ALSO READ: The Seven Best Investments of 2014

2. ETFs

So far this year, Russia-focused funds have struggled. In particular, the Market Vectors Russia Small-Cap ETF has declined nearly 44%. The fund’s weak performance may be largely explained by the general weakness of the Russian economy in the last year. A decline in oil prices and international sanctions against the country are among the factors that have caused a deep plunge in the rouble. Other Russia-focused ETFs have struggled as well: the Market Vectors Russia ETF, SPDR S&P Russia ETF, and iShares MSCI Russia Capped ETF are all down by more than a third this year.

3. Large cap stocks

The S&P 500 has risen by more than 11% so far this year, and the large majority of its stocks are up as well. However, a number of stocks have not been able to ride the strong market. Among these is Transocean Ltd., an offshore driller, which is down 59% so far in 2014. This is due in large part to a huge slide in crude oil prices as well as an oversupplied market for drilling rigs.

In November, Transocean announced it would take more than $2.7 billion in impairment charges due to a drop in utilization of its rigs, as well as a drop in its rates. Speculation about dividend cuts have also plagued offshore drillers, especially following the decision by one — Seadrill — to eliminate its dividend.

4. IPOs

The market for IPOs has been white-hot in 2014. According to Renaissance Capital, manager of IPO-focused ETFs, the number of U.S. IPOs has increased by 23.6% from 2013, while the total amount raised has risen by 65%, to $82 billion. Additionally, Alibaba Group Holding successfully staged the largest IPO in history, raising almost $21.8 billion.

However, not all newly-public stocks have performed well. Shares of Amedica, a silicon nitride implant maker, have fallen by more than 90%. With a book value of just under $12 million and nearly $5 million in losses in the last quarter, Amedica is quite small and quite risky. Of course, Amedica is not alone among dramatically falling IPOs. Offshore driller North Atlantic Drilling, IT company Sysorex, and Malaysian mobile payments company MOL Global have all plunged 75% or more so far this year.

5. Commodities

In a down year for commodities, crude oil has been the biggest loser. Futures contracts in Brent crude, a benchmark for global oil prices, have fallen slumped by more than 37% year to date. Similarly, futures in U.S. benchmark WTI crude oil have fallen by more than one-third since the start of the year. According to a November report from the International Energy Administration, “Relatively weak oil demand since mid-2014, compounding the impact of a rising dollar and relentless growth in unconventional oil supply, had a lot to do with the recent price drops.” Later that month, oil plunged further after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that it would not cut its output to prop up prices.

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6. Currencies

A rallying dollar has perhaps been the key theme in the foreign exchange market in recent months. The end of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve and an improved outlook for U.S. growth have helped push the dollar higher. Other factors included hopes that the European Central Bank will expand its stimulus programs as well as aggressive policies from the Bank of Japan. As a result, major currencies such as the Japanese yen, British pound, and euro have all declined against the dollar so far this year.

However, no currency has slumped more against the dollar than the Russian rouble, which has dropped 38.9% this year vis-a-vis the dollar. While selling roubles and buying dollars would have produced the largest gain in 2014, buying the rouble and selling the dollar would have produced the largest loss.

The declining rouble has be painful for many Russians. The Bank of Russia recently cited declining oil prices and international sanctions against the country as contributing to the lower rouble. In an effort to control high inflation resulting from the currency weakness, the central bank raised interest rates.

7. Fixed income mutual funds

The fixed income market is massive and diverse. Investors can choose anything from Treasury bills — which carry little default risk, offer low interest rates, and mature in a few months — to highly speculative securities with equity-like traits, such as high yield bonds and convertible debt. Mortgage debt, municipal bonds, and bank loans also add to the huge variety of available debt.

Bond mutual funds are similarly diverse. To name just one distinction, some bond funds limit themselves to safe investments, while others accept high levels of risk for potentially higher returns. Of course, sometimes risky investments do not pay off. So far this year, the Aegis High Yield Fund declined by more than 12.5%, more than any other bond fund. The fund’s substantial investments in the energy sectors are likely a contributing factor in its slump. If the energy sector improves, the Aegis High Yield Fund may be primed to rebound.

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