The Biotech Buzz Portfolio has lost its zing.
As a reminder, I put together a
of 10 biotech stocks with the best returns immediately following the JPMorgan healthcare conference in early January. This was an experiment to see if the excitement and enthusiasm for biotech stocks at the closely followed investment conference could be sustained once investors went home.
Two months later, the buzz has worn off big time.
On a cumulative basis, the 10 stocks in the Biotech Buzz Portfolio have slumped 21% since Jan. 10, the closing day of the JPMorgan conference. (Closing prices on Mon. March 10 were used to calculate returns to date.)
That means this basket of biotech stocks is performing worse than the sector as a whole, which is down 17% since Jan. 10, as measured by the decline in the
iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology Index
, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index.
During the same time period, the
is off 10%.
Clearly, the Biotech Buzz Portfolio is not tracking good times in the sector. In fact, it's doing just the opposite, and in stunning, gut-wrenching detail. In this way, the portfolio is still providing useful insights, just not the ones I thought it would about two months ago.
Nine of the 10 stocks in the Biotech Buzz Portfolio have negative returns since Jan. 10. (See the chart below.)
The worst-performing stock in the portfolio --
, which is down 39% -- was actually the top performer at the portfolio's inception.
Pharmasset is developing a hepatitis C drug that has shown impressive data from some early phase II studies. It also has a partnership with
, a major player in the hepatitis C field. Yet none of that seems to matter in a bear market where everything biotech is being
-- good news and bad.
Biotech selling overall has accelerated in the past month, and again, Pharmasset paints the picture.
On Feb. 8, the stock was down 13% from its Jan. 10 closing price of $25.65. On March 10, just a month later, the stock closed at $15.76, down 39%.
It's this rapid selloff that has even veteran, professional biotech investors unnerved. For some, the broad sector weakness is reminiscent of 2002, one of the worst years for biotech in recent history.
For those who don't remember, the two major biotech indices lost about 40% of their value in 2002. The year started off bad in the first few months, but selling didn't truly accelerate until the summer. At its worse point in July of that year, the sector was off 50%.
In 2002, investors shunned risky biotech, in part because the broader markets were dealing with damaging scandals like Enron and Worldcom.
In 2008, investors are
, due to the subprime mortgage mess and the threat of recession.
With the exception of big-cap stocks like
( DNA) and
, the selling of biotech this year has been broad and indiscriminate. That's reflected in the poor performance of the Biotech Buzz Portfolio.
has plunged 37%,
( ALTH) is off 31% and
is down 24%.
, which started the year with a lucrative partnership with
( GENZ), is down 23%.
is down 5% for the year, but is down 8% since its inclusion on the Biotech Buzz Portfolio.
The only portfolio stock with positive returns so far is
, up 2%.
Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback;
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