Barron’s Stock Picks Fell Short in 2021—Even With a Bunch of Winners

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Illustration by Glenn Harvey

Barron’s 2021 stock-picking record took a big hit early on, thanks to the meme-stock craze. And even with some savvy picks later in the year, we failed to beat our benchmarks.

On Jan. 8, Barron’s warned investors about the sky-high valuation of a videogame retailer whose sales had stagnated, and predicted that the stock would fall. The stock was GameStop (ticker: GME).

Even taking that call out of the mix, Barron’s had a mediocre year when it came to stock-picking. Stocks that we expected to rise returned 5.1% from the date of publication through the end of the year, compared with an 8.4% return for the benchmark indexes they were tracked against.

And the stocks that we warned investors could underperform rose more than the market on average. See the table for all of the picks.

Barron’s tracks its stock picks every year to gauge how well they fared and to hold ourselves accountable to readers. We review articles where authors chose three stocks or fewer, and we don’t include stocks mentioned in columns like the Trader or Streetwise.

Some of our larger sector calls are also not included. For instance, the exchange-traded funds mentioned in a bullish Barron’s cover story at the end of January 2021 on commodities are not part of the score card, despite their strong performance throughout the year. And our warning to avoid the initial public offering of Robinhood Markets (HOOD)—now trading at less than half the price of the IPO—was not included because it ran before the official price of the offering was announced.

Each stock in the score card is tracked against a benchmark index based on its size: either the S&P 500, the S&P MidCap 400, or the Russell 2000. Writers sometimes follow up with articles about their stocks. If their opinion on the stock changes, the gain or loss since publication is locked in on that date.

Until last year, we were on a two-year winning streak with our bullish picks. But 2021 proved trickier—and not just because of meme stocks. While many of the 164 stocks we picked during the year outperformed the market, our overall performance lagged.

For the most part, Barron’s biggest winners and losers in 2021 were smaller stocks. One exception was Pfizer (PFE), which we picked in March as the company’s vaccine was being rolled out around the world. It returned 74% through the end of the year. Another large-cap winner, Lowe’s (LOW), returned 70%.

2021 Report Card

Swipe right on your screen or trackpad, or use the scrollbar at the bottom of the table, to view all columns

Bullish Picks Publication Date Pre-Story Price 12/31/21 Price Total Return Benchmark Return
Hertz Global Holdings / HTZ (1) 6/28 $7.15 $14.08 96.9% -3.3%
Cameco / CCJ 2/1 12.42 21.81 76.0 22.9
Pfizer / PFE 3/15 34.94 59.05 73.8 22.2
Lowe’s / LOW 3/5 153.77 258.48 69.9 27.9
MeiraGTx Holdings / MGTX 10/18 14.28 23.74 66.2 -0.7
Toll Brothers / TOL 1/18 44.62 72.39 63.7 18.7
LKQ / LKQ 1/22 37.61 60.03 60.3 25.3
Freeport-McMoRan / FCX 2/1 26.91 41.73 56.0 30.0
Exelon / EXC 3/1 38.60 57.76 54.7 26.5
Moderna / MRNA 4/23 168.10 253.98 51.1 16.4
Fluor / FLR 2/19 16.48 24.77 50.3 2.1
Welbilt / WBT 3/28 16.15 23.77 47.2 1.8
Oracle / ORCL 2/22 61.13 87.21 44.3 23.5
Affirm Holdings / AFRM 4/9 69.81 100.56 44.0 17.5
Walker & Dunlop / WD 3/15 106.30 150.88 43.9 -3.8
Evoqua Water Technogies / AQUA 7/26 32.80 46.75 42.5 2.1
Hilton Worldwide Holdings / HLT 2/8 111.67 155.99 39.7 24.2
O’Reilly Automotive / ORLY 4/15 517.69 706.23 36.4 16.7
Hostess Brands / TWNK 4/26 15.07 20.42 35.5 -0.5
Anglo American / NGLOY 2/1 16.51 20.58 35.4 30.0
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts / WH 7/23 69.43 89.65 30.1 7.9
AbbVie / ABBV 3/15 108.22 135.40 29.6 22.2
NextEra Energy / NEE 3/1 73.48 93.36 28.9 26.5
Spectrum Brands Holdings / SPB 8/9 80.06 101.72 28.2 0.3
Seagate Technology Holdings / STX 5/10 91.56 112.98 26.2 13.6
XPO Logistics / XPO 4/22 133.57 168.26 (2) 25.8 5.7
Duckhorn Portfolio / NAPA 5/24 18.66 23.34 25.1 2.0
H&R Block / HRB 3/25 19.82 23.56 22.9 14.1
Academy Sports and Outdoors / ASO 7/19 35.75 43.90 22.8 4.3
Kinaxis / KXS.Canada (3) 6/14 C$141.64 C$177.33 20.4 -3.3
e.l.f. Beauty / ELF 3/22 $27.67 $33.21 20.0 -1.1
Dominion Energy / D 3/1 68.32 78.56 19.0 26.5
Lennar / LEN 6/21 98.17 116.16 18.9 15.2
MGM Growth Properties / MGP 6/4 35.76 40.85 18.9 5.5
Johnson Controls International / JCI 7/2 69.01 81.31 18.8 11.7
Vintage Wine Estates / VWE (4) 5/24 10.08 11.82 17.3 2.0
UMH Properties / UMH 12/6 23.36 27.33 17.0 4.1
J.B. Hunt Transport Services / JBHT 8/16 175.61 204.40 16.6 7.2
Microsoft / MSFT 8/6 289.52 336.32 16.6 8.2
Chart Industries / GTLS 6/28 138.04 159.49 15.5 -3.3
GlaxoSmithKline / GSK 7/29 39.50 44.10 14.5 9.0
IBM / IBM 11/26 116.73 133.66 14.5 1.5
Applied Materials / AMAT 5/31 138.13 157.36 14.3 14.3
SVB Financial / SIVB 6/7 596.06 678.24 13.8 13.5
Mondelez International / MDLZ 4/26 59.51 66.31 13.3 15.1
Jefferies Financial Group / JEF 8/23 34.47 38.80 13.2 6.7
Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital / HASI 5/10 47.99 53.12 12.9 -0.5
Meta Platforms / FB 4/5 298.66 336.35 12.7 19.8
Glencore / GLNCY 9/20 9.01 10.08 11.9 7.9
Stelco Holdings / STZHF 10/4 29.38 32.59 11.7 0.4
Scotts Miracle-Gro / SMG 9/27 144.85 161.00 11.6 5.7
Lam Research / LRCX 5/31 649.85 719.15 11.4 14.3
Bank of America / BAC 5/3 40.53 44.49 11.3 15.1
Taylor Morrison Home / TMHC 9/6 27.83 30.84 10.8 -1.7
Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors / FTAI 12/20 26.23 28.92 10.3 3.3
Dell Technologies / DELL (5) 10/18 51.00 56.17 10.1 6.9
Meritor / MTOR 10/4 22.56 24.78 9.8 0.4
Berry Global Group / BERY 8/26 67.32 73.78 9.6 4.2
Royal Dutch Shell / RDS.B 8/9 40.54 43.35 9.3 8.0
Host Hotels & Resorts / HST 7/23 15.91 17.39 9.3 9.8
Johnson & Johnson / JNJ 3/15 159.60 171.07 9.2 22.2
PulteGroup / PHM 12/3 52.49 57.16 9.2 4.2
Aptiv / APTV 6/18 151.36 164.95 9.0 13.7
BHP Group / BHP 9/20 55.54 60.35 8.7 7.9
Steel Dynamics / STLD 10/4 58.29 62.07 6.9 6.2
Rocket Lab USA / RKLB (4) 3/22 11.60 12.28 5.9 9.8
Booz Allen Hamilton Holding / BAH 8/16 80.58 84.79 5.7 4.6
Mayville Engineering / MEC 9/13 13.92 14.71 5.7 1.1
Vertex Pharmaceuticals / VRTX 3/5 207.79 219.60 5.7 27.9
Ranpak Holdings / PACK 12/27 35.54 37.58 5.7 0.2
Pinnacle Financial Partners / PNFP 6/7 90.89 95.50 5.5 4.9
MGM Resorts International / MGM 6/4 42.55 44.88 5.5 14.5
MGIC Investment / MTG 6/24 13.87 14.42 5.1 6.9
KKR Real Estate Finance Trust / KREF 5/14 21.07 20.83 5.0 4.1
PNC Financial Services Group / PNC 6/7 194.00 200.52 4.7 13.5
Chesapeake Energy / CHK 10/25 62.07 64.52 4.7 1.9
EQT / EQT 5/31 20.88 21.81 4.5 5.0
Darling Ingredients / DAR 12/3 66.49 69.29 4.2 4.0
Neste / NTOIY 12/3 23.60 24.50 3.8 4.2
Progressive / PGR 5/3 100.74 102.65 3.6 15.1
Gentherm / THRM 11/29 83.94 86.90 3.5 0.1
Meritage Homes / MTH 12/3 118.04 122.06 3.4 1.9
Corning / GLW 2/15 36.88 37.23 3.4 22.6
Lockheed Martin / LMT 3/22 355.07 355.41 2.4 23.1
Nintendo / NTDOY 12/3 57.00 58.37 2.4 4.2
Casey’s General Stores / CASY 2/8 194.02 197.35 2.2 16.1
Blackstone Mortgage Trust / BXMT 5/14 31.80 30.62 2.1 7.1
Twitter / TWTR 12/3 42.65 43.22 1.3 4.2
Prudential Financial / PRU 10/7 107.97 108.24 1.3 9.6
Six Flags Entertainment / SIX 6/21 42.55 42.58 0.1 9.5
Madison Square Garden Entertainment / MSGE 11/1 70.47 70.34 -0.2 -2.0
Essent Group / ESNT 6/24 46.07 45.53 -0.3 -2.0
Alleghany / Y 11/8 673.05 667.59 -0.8 1.7
Starbucks / SBUX 8/6 119.03 116.97 -0.9 8.2
LCI Industries / LCII 11/22 156.91 155.87 -0.9 -4.0
VICI Properties / VICI 6/4 31.74 30.11 -1.8 14.5
Travel + Leisure / TNL 7/23 56.97 55.27 -1.8 7.9
General Motors / GM 6/18 60.08 58.63 -2.4 13.7
Ross Stores / ROST 2/26 118.77 114.28 -2.8 25.9
Whirlpool / WHR 5/17 246.72 234.66 -3.1 15.2
Sportradar Holding / SRAD 12/13 18.23 17.57 -3.6 1.6
Barrick Gold / GOLD 4/5 20.37 19.00 -3.6 19.8
Malibu Boats / MBUU 7/12 71.45 68.73 -3.8 -1.0
NMI Holdings / NMIH 6/24 22.90 21.85 -4.6 -2.0
Illumina / ILMN 4/8 400.55 380.44 -5.0 18.0
SAP / SAP 7/16 147.69 140.11 -5.1 10.0
Perrigo / PRGO 4/26 41.83 38.9 -5.4 4.4
Realogy Holdings / RLGY 5/17 17.86 16.81 -5.9 1.6
Citigroup / C 3/1 65.88 60.39 -6.3 26.5
Atlas Technical Consultants / ATCX 8/2 8.99 8.42 -6.3 1.3
Hudson Pacific Properties / HPP 8/6 26.97 24.71 -6.5 5.6
PTC / PTC 6/4 129.58 121.15 -6.5 14.5
Opendoor Technologies / OPEN 12/9 15.69 14.61 -6.9 1.0
Hologic / HOLX 2/15 82.98 76.56 -7.7 22.6
Madison Square Garden Sports / MSGS 11/1 189.51 173.73 -8.3 -2.0
Sonos / SONO 11/1 32.62 29.80 -8.6 -2.0
Li-Cycle Holdings / LICY 9/27 10.95 9.96 -9.0 0.2
Plantronics / POLY 8/30 32.23 29.34 -9.0 -1.0
II-VI / IIVI 4/12 76.21 68.33 -10.3 7.4
Grupo Mexico / GMBXF 5/10 5.16 4.36 -10.6 13.6
Porsche Automobil Holding / POAHY 7/5 10.84 9.39 -11.3 10.2
Ryanair Holdings / RYA.Ireland (3) 7/5 €16.53 €15.25 -11.3 10.2
Stem / STEM 8/23 $21.43 $18.97 -11.5 4.0
General Electric / GE 11/12 107.00 94.47 -11.6 2.7
Altra Industrial Motion / AIMC 5/3 59.01 51.57 -12.2 -0.2
Blade Air Mobility / BLDE 11/8 10.10 8.83 -12.6 -7.7
AMC Networks / AMCX 11/1 39.79 34.44 -13.4 -2.0
First Quantum Minerals / FQVLF 5/10 27.81 24.00 -13.7 13.6
Calumet Specialty Products Partners / CLMT 12/3 15.29 13.20 -13.7 1.9
Gray Television / GTN 10/11 23.62 20.16 -14.3 0.8
Splunk / SPLK 3/22 135.04 115.72 -14.3 23.1
AT&T / T 5/24 30.01 24.60 -14.9 15.6
Wizz Air Holdings / WIZZ.UK (3) 7/5 4825 pence 4188 pence -14.9 10.2
Regenxbio / RGNX 11/5 $38.56 $32.70 -15.2 -6.3
Boeing / BA 8/13 238.18 201.32 -15.5 7.4
NCR / NCR 7/5 47.59 40.20 -15.5 10.2
MillerKnoll / MLKN (6) 5/31 47.80 39.19 -17.3 -0.5
Walt Disney / DIS 4/19 187.26 154.89 -17.3 15.0
Sibanye Stillwater / SBSW 2/8 16.85 12.54 -17.5 24.2
Offerpad Solutions / OPAD 12/9 8.01 6.40 -20.1 -1.1
Power & Digital Infrastructure Acquistion / XPDI 11/19 13.83 10.95 -20.8 -1.3
Mytheresa / MYTE 3/8 27.19 21.21 -21.9 3.3
International Consolidated Airlines Group / IAG.UK (3) 7/5 180.12 pence 142.48 pence -22.4 10.2
TripAdvisor / TRIP 7/26 $36.26 $27.26 -24.8 7.0
Green Thumb Industries / GTBIF 4/30 29.80 22.17 -25.6 3.8
Coinbase Global / COIN 4/19 342.00 252.37 -26.2 15.0
Nordstrom / JWN 1/4 31.21 22.62 -27.5 24.7
Tenaya Therapeutics / TNYA 11/5 26.37 18.95 -28.1 -6.3
Verve Therapeutics / VERV 11/5 54.49 36.87 -32.3 -6.3
Curaleaf Holdings / CURLF 4/30 13.31 9.00 -32.4 3.8
Riot Blockchain / RIOT 11/19 33.63 22.33 -33.6 -4.9
Trulieve Cannabis / TCNNF 4/30 39.35 26.01 -33.9 3.8
Staar Surgical / STAA 8/16 139.24 91.30 -34.4 4.6
Brinker International / EAT 6/4 55.86 36.59 -34.5 -0.9
Marathon Digital Holdings / MARA 11/19 51.46 32.86 -36.1 -1.3
Guardant Health / GH 4/8 158.03 100.02 -36.7 18.0
PetIQ / PETQ 4/19 37.00 22.71 -38.6 -0.1
Exact Sciences / EXAS 4/8 129.18 77.83 -39.8 18.0
WW International / WW 4/2 31.80 16.13 -49.3 8.3
Amyris / AMRS 7/19 13.06 5.41 -58.6 4.3
AVERAGE: 5.0% 8.4%

(1) Barron’s recommended HTZGQ on June 28. 12/31 price represents the value of cash, stock, and warrants an investor would have received from one share of HTZGQ. (2) 12/31 price represents 1 share of XPO and 1 share of GXO which was spun out of XPO on July 22 (3) Prices in local currency. Returns in USD. (4) Barron’s recommended the SPAC shares before the merger was completed. (5) DELL pre-story price represents “core” Dell only and excludes the 81% of VMware that was spun off on Nov. 1. (6) Changed name and ticker from Herman Miller (MLHR) in second half of 2021.

Source: Bloomberg

Bearish Calls

Company / Ticker Publication Date Pre-Story Price 12/31/2021 Price Total Return Benchmark Return
Genius Sports / GENI 7/5 $19.32 $7.60 -60.7% -5.0%
Carnival / CCL 4/12 29.30 20.12 -31.3 16.6
Planet Fitness / PLNT 5/27 80.24 90.58 12.9 -2.5
GameStop / GME 1/11 17.69 148.39 738.8 8.4
AVERAGE: 164.9% 4.4%

Source: Bloomberg

Our best bullish call of the year was on rental car company Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ). When the article came out in June, it was about to exit bankruptcy. We noted that Hertz would emerge with no debt and strong prospects, given the surging rates for rental cars at the time.

At the time, investors were hesitant about buying in, because much of the value would be issued through warrants. Those who did so, however, ended up being rewarded with a return of nearly 100% through the end of the year.

Another successful pick was Cameco (CCJ), a uranium miner that benefited as uranium prices rose throughout the year. It may also have been helped by traders who gathered on message boards to try to cause a short squeeze.

Among the stocks that struggled were some cryptocurrency-related names. While crypto started the year in very strong shape, it eventually fizzled out. Bitcoin miners like Riot Blockchain (RIOT) and crypto exchange Coinbase Global (COIN) struggled through the end of the year as crypto prices fell. Tougher regulation and a selloff in some riskier assets hurt the industry.

See All the Stocks We’re Bullish—and Bearish—On

Other calls that didn’t pan out included Amyris (AMRS), a pioneer in the still nascent industry of synthetic biology. The article noted that the science behind synthetic biology—which involves reprogramming the genetic material of microorganisms—is very new and could take a while to play out. Eventually, synthetic biology could transform the process of creating industrial materials. The early years are likely to be volatile, however, and the stocks clearly won’t move in a straight line.

WW International (WW), another bullish pick, also fell. The weight-loss pioneer formerly known as Weight Watchers has had trouble adding members, losing some of the momentum that its digital product had built up at the height of the pandemic. One part of the bullish thesis was that the back-to-work routine would inspire people to get in better shape—but successive waves of the pandemic have put off the return to the office for many people.

We ran only four bearish picks in 2021. That in itself may have been a smart move—it was another strong year for markets, and people who shorted stocks often lost out. One stock that surprised Barron’s, and almost everyone else, was GameStop.

The company had been reporting diminishing profits and closing stores for years, and did not seem to have a coherent plan to deal with the rise of digital game downloads. It had risen sharply in the second half of 2020 on hopes that the company could rebound, but there seemed to be little behind the move. As of early January, shares looked expensive absent some more substantive change.

Days after our article ran, Chewy co-founder Ryan Cohen and two other former executives joined the board. And within weeks, the short squeeze to end all short squeezes caused shares to rise more than tenfold.

Who knew that an obscure videogame retailer would spark the next investing revolution? Certainly not us.

Some of our other bearish calls saved investors money, however. London-based Genius Sports (GENI), for instance, fell 60% after we warned investors that its plan to make money off an expansion in online gambling might not play out as expected, and that its valuation of as much as 20 times revenue didn’t take that into account.

Genius has been hoping to sign deals with sports leagues to gather data that are then sent to bookmakers. But the field is competitive, and the stock hasn’t kept up with its rich valuation.

Write to Avi Salzman at avi.salzman@barrons.com