Last year's star stocks fade out

Following the leaders has become a loser's game on Wall Street.

Stocks that were stars coming into the year are some of the worst performers in a market that's struggling through another tumultuous period. And it's unclear what groups might emerge to lead the market out of its funk.

Forty-seven members of the Standard & Poor's 500 rose 50% or more in 2007, when the index rose 3.5%. But 40 of those 47 are in the red in 2008. And 23, including past favorites Apple appl and Google goog, are doing even worse than the 14.8% loss in the S&P 500.

Worse yet, "It doesn't seem like anything is taking a leadership position," says Jack Ablin of Harris Private Bank. "There are no places to hide."

Even winners from earlier in the year are rolling over, says Justin Walters, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group. The top-performing large stocks in the first half of the year are down 25.7% in the second half, he says.

There are several reasons why so many former leaders are hurting:

•The unwinding of the global commodity boom. With global growth in question, makers of commodities, industrial equipment and energy are getting hammered, says Michael Farr of Farr Miller & Washington. If the world economy slows, demand for raw materials will, too.

That's why Freeport-McMoRan fcx, a copper and gold supplier, is down 28% in 2008. Deere, which expected to benefit from the boom in ethanol production and demand for farm equipment, is down 32%. Even more telling, shares of IntercontinentalExchange, a market in which commodity contracts are traded, are down 53%.

•Tech sag. Many tech darlings have flamed out as investors worry about where the sector will grow.

Google is down 37%, and Juniper Networks jnpr, maker of Internet devices used by businesses, is off 22%. "Not much is working right now," Farr says.

•Consumer malaise. Investors doubt that consumers will keep spending, which put a lid on companies including iPod maker Apple, video game seller GameStop gme and online travel agent Expedia expe.

Which stocks will step up into the former leaders' void? Walters expects retailers that appeal to consumers watching their wallets to move up. Wal-Mart wmt is up 31% this year.

Investors may also cling to companies with stable earnings, including health care firms, Farr says. "Defensive is the new leadership," he says.

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