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Stock Picks Shine

Thanks to one big winner, last year's choices clobber the market.

Sometimes one stock can make or break you. As it turns out, one stock enabled our picks for 2005 to clock the market (see "8 Stocks to Own This Year," Jan. 2005). Valero Energy, a refiner, benefited from rising oil prices and saw its shares soar 129%. Despite that run-up, we'd continue to hold the stock.

Our picks returned 19%, on average, handily beating the 6% return of Standard Poor's 500-stock index. MetLife advanced 33%, and five others -- Emerson Electric, Lyondell Chemical, Medtronic, Southwest Airlines and Yahoo -- rose between 2% and 9%. All are keepers.

Our only loser was Symantec, which fell 36%. Investors reacted warily to the security-software developer's takeover of Veritas Software. Then, in November, Symantec trimmed earnings projections. Symantec is one choice we'd like to have back -- if you own it, sell it.

We also argued a year ago that funds that invest in fast-growing companies were poised to overtake value funds. Value and growth roughly tied in '05, but our five fund picks gained 12%, on average (see "Ripe for a Comeback," Jan. 2005). Leading the pack was T. Rowe Price Media Telecommunications, up 23%. But it has two new managers and they don't have long track records, so we no longer recommend the fund. Vanguard Health Care, which returned 16%, is terrific, but is shut to new clients. We also still like Marsico Growth (up 10%), Fidelity Select Technology (8%) and Meridian Growth (1%).