Biggest stock market winners and losers of 2021

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It has been another year of volatility for the stock market. Despite the rollout of vaccines the pandemic has persisted and news of the Omicron variant sent shockwaves through global markets.

The FTSE All Share is up 13.79 per cent this year but some sectors have continued to be hit hard by further restrictions and pandemic-induced supply chain shortages. 

Other companies have continued to benefit from digital adoption as well as increased infrastructure spending.

The FTSE All Share index is up 11.5 per cent this year but some companies have been hit hard by continued restrictions

The FTSE All Share index is up 11.5 per cent this year but some companies have been hit hard by continued restrictions 

Best performing stocks

Big tech stocks were among the biggest winners of the early pandemic as businesses accelerated their digital adoption. 

While well-known stocks like Amazon and Tesla are still up this year a rotation to value stocks has dented their run.

That said, investors Kin and Carta, a so-called ‘digital transformation’ business, has been one of the top performing stocks in the UK this year despite not yet posting a profit.

Its pre-tax losses have, however, narrowed on higher revenue this year and sentiment has certainly improved: its share price is up 111 per cent in the year to 29 December.

However it was luxury watchmaker Watches of Switzerland which topped the leaderboard of the UK’s top performing stocks this year.

Both store and online sales in the UK and US grew, with first half sales to the end of October climbing 44 per cent to top half a billion pounds.

‘In an era of smartphones, luxury watches proved in 2021 that they have not lost their shine… The sale of hard prestige assets in an era of central bank money printing could also be a contributing factor,’ says Keith Bowman, investment analyst at Interactive Investor.

The retailer, which has 163 stores, saw profit rise from £36.2million a year ago to £64.7million. Its share price has rocketed 159 per cent since 31 December 2020. 

Magazine publisher Future also more than doubled its share price over the course of 2021 as it doubled its profits.

Future has carved out a niche of specialist titles, including Marie Claire and Guitar World, which means it has a loyal readership and little competition. This year its overall audience has grown 10 per cent to 394million while its online users are up 8 per cent to 282million.

Elsewhere, Greggs has shaken off the pandemic and is pressing on with plans to expand and grow its share of the food-on-the-go market. It recently said it plans to open 150 new stores a year and double its turnover to £2.4billion by 2026.

Supply shortages and increasing costs will likely hit its bottom line over the next year but its ambition has been well-received in the market: It is trading up more than 80 per cent since the end of 2020.

Similarly, equipment rental company Ashtead continues to be one of the best blue-chip stocks outperforming expectations, lifting its shares by 78 per cent.

The supplier of traffic cones, construction equipment and tools like diggers said group rental revenues jumped 20 per cent to $3.5billion in the six months to the end of October.

It helped lift overall revenue by 18 per cent to $3.9billion and adjusted pre-tax profit by 42 per cent to $979million.

Ashtead is also the biggest investment winner of the past decade among those listed on the main market, with a rise of 3,910 per cent according to research by Bowmore Asset Management. 

‘Looking forward, assuming the US – Ashtead’s main market – does not go into another lockdown, which is unlikely at present, then the conditions are ripe for the firm,’ said Adam Vetesse, analyst at eToro.

‘President Joe Biden’s enormous infrastructure programme, in particular, should provide sustained demand for its services for the foreseeable future.’

Stock market winners 
Company  Percentage change since 31 Dec 2020 
Watches of Switzerland 159
Indivior  143 
Future  117 
Investec  116 
Kim and Carta  111 
Volution Group  99.3 
Greggs  86.5 
Reach  85.2 
Playtech  84.5 
Renewi  80.9 
Safestore Holdings  80.6
Ashtead Group  78 
River and Mercantile  75.9 
RPS Group  75.9 
M&S  72.8 
Frasers   72.3 
Harworth Group  71.9
Airtel Africa  71.9 
Bytes Technology Group  71.6
Pendragon  67.2 
Source: interactive investor using SharePad (Figures correct as of 29/12/2021)

2021’s stock market losers

White goods retailer AO World enjoyed a significant push in sales during the early pandemic and its shares climbed over 300 per cent last year.

But it has come crashing down to earth with shares now down more than 70 per cent this year.

Much of the retail sector has experienced heightened demand as online shopping continues to soar, coupled with pandemic-induced delays. It means that the run-up to Christmas has been considerably softer than in previous years, not helped by supply chain issues and a shortage of delivery drivers. 

In its recent update AO World said shipping costs, an increase in raw material costs and inflation had also had an effect on trading. It has slashed its previous guidance of five per cent growth and now expects sales for the year to March 2022 to be flat or minus five per cent.

Analysts have noted that the move into the German online market is still in its early stages and it is facing increased competition.

‘This in turn has necessitated an investment in systems and people (especially drivers) and increased marketing costs in Germany which have driven a bus through previous projections,’ said Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.

‘Amid the short-term noise, there are elements of optimism arising from a longer term view. Since pre-pandemic, overall revenues have risen by 67 per cent, with growth in the UK and German operations of 65 per cent 82 per cent respectively,’ said Hunter.

‘The third party logistics business has seen revenues increase by 38.5 per cent, including three new contracts in Germany, and the fact that AO World has now recruited more drivers to restore its levels could bode well for further expansion as other companies outsource their deliveries.’  

Cineworld has been living through its own horror film during the pandemic with takings at near lows.

There have been signs that the cinema industry has started to recover – UK box office takings hit their highest levels since before the pandemic earlier this month.

But now its pre-pandemic plans to expand through acquisitions have come back to haunt it.

Cineworld struck a deal in December 2019 to buy Canadian company Cineplex but it was forced to bail out of the deal given it had no income when the pandemic hit. 

Now it is facing a £700billion bill for damages which has sent shares tumbling and it is now down nearly 50 per cent since the start of the year.

‘Cineworld is losing credibility fast with investors, having taken too many risks with expansion and paid the price for unscrupulous tactics,’ said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

Embattled Metro Bank is another UK stock losing credibility. Its share price has fallen 95 per cent since the start of 2019 and is down 31.6 per cent this year alone.

Its issues have been well-publicised: in 2019 the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) discovered it had misclassified hundreds of millions of high-risk commercial property and buy-to-let loans.

It clawed back some of its losses last month on the news that private equity firm Carlyle had entered buyout talks but just two weeks later it abandoned the deal leading to further uncertainty.

Elsewhere, train operators Trainline and Go-Ahead Group have fallen back again on the news of a fresh coronavirus wave pandemic, with shares down 40.9 per cent and 30.7 per cent respectively this year.

Trainline has suffered since the government announced plans for its state-run ticketing app meaning its dominance has become somewhat uncertain. Stifel analysts have said the introduction of Great British Railways could either mean Trainline goes head to head with the app or its technology ends up powering it.

Go-Ahead Group’s fate is even more uncertain. Earlier this month it announced it would suspend trading in the new year as it deals with the fallout from a failure to repay £25million of taxpayers’ cash.

Services on the network were taken over in October by the Government after Southeastern failed to declare the sums which relate to ‘variable track access charges’.  

Stock market losers 
Company  Percentage change since 31 Dec 2020 
AO World -74.4
Avon Protection  -64.5
Fisher (James) & Sons  -62.3
Cineworld  -49.8 
Esken  -49 
Petropavlovsk  -41.5 
Trainline  -40.9
SLF Realisation Fund  -40.9
Wood Group  -39.2 
Hochschild Mining  -37.4 
CMC Markets  -35.9
Sabre Insurance  -34.8
Aston Martin Lagonda   -32.8 
Ashmore Group  -31.9
SLF Realisation Fund  -31.6
Go-Ahead Group  -31.2
Baillie Gifford China Growth Trust  -30.7
Centamin  -30.2
Ashmore   -29.2
Lancashire Holdings  -28.7
Source: interactive investor using SharePad (Figures correct as of 29/12/2021)

Biggest surprises of the year 

Meme stocks

One of the dominant narratives of this year has been the surge in retail trading, not least the meme stock frenzy in January.

Whether a battle between small investors and Wall Street or a get-rich-quick scheme for others, it captured the imaginations of thousands of young investors.

The popularity of Gamestop, which sells shrink-wrapped video games, had dwindled in recent years as consumers move online.

In January retail investors on r/wallstreetbets flocked to Gamestop lifting its share price to $350

In January retail investors on r/wallstreetbets flocked to Gamestop lifting its share price to $350 

Last autumn, activist investor Ryan Cohen stepped in to help revive the company but other investors and hedge funds were unconvinced. They took out short positions against the retailer.

In January, Cohen joined the Gamestop board which helped to boost its share price from $19.95 to $39.12 in just 9 days.

An army of novice Reddit traders then flocked to Gamestop lifting its share price to nearly $350 after Elon Musk’s ‘Gamestonk’ tweet.

Attention then turned to other stocks that had fallen out of favour, like cinema chain AMC Entertainment and even Nokia at one point.

The Hut Group

THG’s troubles began in September when concerns started to mount over its governance which sent its share price plunging and saw several large backers like Goldman Sachs and Blackrock slash the size of their stakes.

Its founder and chief executive, Matt Moulding, ended up adding fuel to the fire at a disastrous investor meeting in October which sent the shares even lower.

It led to a huge overhaul of the company’s business model which included Moulding relinquishing his ‘golden share’ which would have allowed him to veto any takeover approaches.

Its share price is down 73 per cent in the year-to-date.

Return of Woodford

This year also saw the return of disgraced fund manager Neil Woodford. 

In a tearful interview with The Telegraph he announced his return to fund management with plans to launch Woodford Capital Management Partners – a Jersey-based fund focused on biotech. It has recently been reported he is seeking capital in the Middle East.

Woodford’s flagship fund, Woodford Equity Income fund, was suspended in June 2019 after it was overwhelmed with withdrawal requests.

He was forced to shut the vehicle a few months later, leaving his reputation in tatters.

‘What I was responsible for was two years of underperformance — I was the fund manager, the investment strategy was mine, I owned it and it delivered a period of underperformance,’ Woodford said.

Soon after the surprise comeback, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a stark warning to Woodford saying it would perform character assessments in its decision over whether to grant a licence to the new outfit.

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