With the first half of the year nearing an end, about 248 S&P 500 Index members have declined, a rare even split in the benchmark for U.S. stocks that reflects an uneven economic recovery, investor uncertainty and many individual company stories.
Contrary to an increasing trend in markets, stock picking trumped sector stories in the first half as each industry saw its fair share of winners and losers. For example, in the technology space, shares of Apple soared by more than 20 percent, while America’s other favorite tech company, Google, lost 24 percent.
"You could have been in the right church, but the wrong pew,” said Jon Najarian, co-founder of OptionsMonster.com and TradeMonster.com. “It indicates our economic recovery is not broad-based. I think this continues for another quarter at least until we get some clarity on the political direction of the country."
This tug and pull has left the S&P 500 down about three percent for 2010. Companies will begin reporting second-quarter earnings next month, but in the meantime investors have been focused on the European debt crisis, poor U.S. job growth and political policy. Some interesting individual stocks stories have developed while they have been pre-occupied.
The best performing stock in the index was a back-from-the-dead regional bank, Zions Bancorp, according to Finviz.com, which was used to compile this data. Zions benefited from improving consumer credit trends in the first half in states like Nevada, California and Arizona, which were among the hardest hit by the housing crash. The second biggest winner was Akamai Technologies, whose software speeds up the delivery of web content. Companies are going to need Akamai’s help to keep up with the increased demand from all those iPhones and iPads flying off the shelves.
The worst performer in the S&P 500 for 2010 is Dean Foods, the country’s largest dairy processor. Earlier this year, Dean cut its profit forecast on lower margins and it is also the subject of two federal class actions suits accusing the company of collusion.
If any clear sector story did emerge, it was commodity stocks. Steel and aluminum shares such as AK Steel and Alcoa were hurt by concerns about slowing growth in China. While oil and drilling companies such as Diamond Offshore and Exxon Mobil were hurt by the BP spill in the Gulf. BP does not trade in the S&P 500 because it is based in London.
That said, even 40 percent of the stocks in the commodity sector increased, according to Finviz.com. The companies with exposure to natural gas and gold such as EOG Resources and Newmont Mining posted the biggest gains.
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John Melloy is the Executive Producer of Fast Money. Before joining CNBC, he was an editor for Bloomberg News, overseeing the U.S. Stock Market coverage team