The 3 most exciting stocks of 2013

In an usually dramatic year for the market, Herbalife, Tesla Motors and J.C. Penney stood out.

By InvestorPlace Dec 18, 2013 2:10PM

Caption: Customers shop at a J.C. Penney store, in New York 
Credit: (© Mark Lennihan/AP)By Dan Burrows

Herbalife (HLF), Tesla Motors (TSLA) and J.C. Penney (JCP) stood out in an unusually dramatic year for stocks.

True, there's no shortage of exciting stock stories this year. That's what happens when the market has an amazing run, adding 25% so far in 2013.

For example, we had amazing turnarounds from Netflix (NFLX) and Best Buy (BBY) this year, both of which helped lead the broader market higher. Then, of course, there's Facebook (FB). After languishing for much of the year, FB took off in the fall, and now it's sitting on a doubler.

Sears Holdings (SHLD), meanwhile, was a fountain of downside-drama this year. With both Sears and Kmart stores cracking up, the market's only interested in what Sears is worth in a breakup.

But when it comes to share performance, billionaire egos, innovation and conflict, you can't beat HLF, TSLA or JCP for an almost operatic 2013. Read on to see why:

Tesla Motors

YTD Performance: +351%
52-Week High: $194.50
52-Week Low: $32.11

Tesla Motors doesn't just generate excitement from its state-of-the-art electric cars -- TSLA has been a melodrama in and of itself this year.

In another war between longs and shorts, the longs might have the upper hand for now -- but some epic volatility in TSLA gave the shorts plenty of wins along the way, especially over the last couple of months.

Among the many headwinds and tailwinds for Tesla stock this year: Consumer Reports called it the best car the magazine has ever driven; a bad review in The New York Times cost Tesla an estimated $100 million in sales; and -- most damaging -- three Tesla Model S sedans caught fire.

In the meantime, Elon Musk is notching or being shortlisted for CEO-of-the-year honors in the financial press, and Tesla Motors isn't even his first passion. (That would be SpaceX, Musk's privately held rocket company.)

Through it all, TSLA stock has more than quadrupled this year, and yet it's still limping into the end 2013. Indeed, TSLA was up more than 500% for the year less than two months ago, but then those cars caught fire. Tesla's stock has lost more than 20% ever since.


YTD Performance: +132%
52-Week High: $78.50
52-Week Low: $24.24

There's nothing quite like a battle of billionaires -- and their egos -- to make for a great stock story, and Herbalife has it all.

Technically, this story began at the end of last year when billionaire Bill Ackman accused HLF of being a pyramid scheme. His Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund took a huge short position, betting that the Federal Trade commission would shut Herbalife down.

Almost immediately, other billionaires smelling blood in the water (or with old scores to settle) took long positions in Herbalife. Carl Icahn, Dan Loeb and George Soros were just some of the billionaire hedge fund operators squeezing Ackman's short position for both fun and profit.

In the meantime, a top HLF salesman was found dead in an apparent suicide, Icahn attained two seats on the Herbalife board, the FTC sat on its hands, and a re-audit of Herbalife's books showed nothing amiss.

And yet through all the volatility, punching and counter-punching, HLF more than doubled for the year-to-date, costing Ackman $500 million -- and counting.

J.C. Penney

YTD Performance: -58%
52-Week High: $23.10
52-Week Low: $6.24

J.C. Penney has been one of the most exciting stories of the year, but for all the wrong reasons: JCP is off nearly 60% as the troubled retailer struggles to undo all the damage from its predecessor CEO.

Interestingly, JCP also bears the mark of Bill Ackman. He was the driving force to bring in former CEO Ron Johnson. The former Target (TGT) and Apple (AAPL) executive couldn’t have screwed up JCP more if he tried.

Johnson was fired in April, but JCP stock has been taking on water faster than his replacement can bail it out. (Ackman unloaded his stake in JCP stock for a $500 million loss.)

Penney still is racking up wider-than-expected losses, and a bad holiday selling season could push JCP over the edge.

It's been a fascinating, if depressing, story. JCP was the worst-performing stock in the S&P 500 (that is, until JCP was booted from the S&P 500 in November), blowing past a 13-year low along the way. J.C. Penney might rise from the ashes in 2014 -- or disappear altogether.

More From InvestorPlace

As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

Dec 18, 2013 3:54PM
Stock market soars as taper starts

Kinda DESTROYS your million rants that the stock market is only held up by QE

Dec 18, 2013 6:10PM
Stocks are meaningless,this economy sucks still!!!!!
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