Investors are scrambling to find 2015's version of BlackBerry.
Although not an easy thing to do, several ugly ducklings from this year are capable of turning into 2015 swans. Sprint (S) (down 60.74%) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) (down 31.27%) are two candidates to keep an eye on.
Take a look at the chart:
After losing more than 60% of its value in 2014, compared with the 8.91% gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the 13.01% gain in S&P 500, Sprint has a lot to prove next year. Already having a bad year, things got worse after the company's $32 billion bid for rival wireless carrier T-Mobile ( TMUS) (down 18.28%) was shot down by federal regulators, costing Chief Executive Dan Hesse his job.
Marcelo Claure, the former chief executive of wireless-distribution company Brightstar, in now at the helm.
His first course of action should be to change Sprint's culture. Like BlackBerry, Claure can change things by focusing on Sprint's strengths to help narrow the gap with larger rivals AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) .
To better compete with AT&T and Verizon, Sprint must invest in its long-term evolution network. The company must also ramp up its marketing strategy and change how it is perceived by customers.
Not only would this help reduce the churn rate, or customer cancellations, it would also help raise the average revenue per user metric, helping Sprint to raise the value of each customer.
All told, Sprint, which still has about 16% of the wireless market (both AT&T and Verizon have about 30% each), can yet become viable. But the company must execute to perfection.
It is a tall order, but ugly ducklings, or underdogs, should already understand this.
For similar reasons, AMD could surprise investors next year, but it won't be easy.
Like Sprint, in October, AMD installed a new chief executive. After three years of losing money and perpetually trailing Intel (INTC) , Rory Read stepped down, giving way to Lisa Su, the company's chief operating officer.
Su's main job is to deliver growth, and she must figure it out quickly.
AMD thrived when sales of personal computers were climbing, but those days are gone.
The company's bet on video games, convincing Microsoft (MSFT) and Sony (SNE) to use its chips in their gaming consoles, was a moderate success. But it hasn't been enough to improve AMD's cash position.
In the most recent quarter, operating cash flow registered at a negative $193 million. And its net debt position of $1.27 billion will continue to hamper the stock price.
The good news is that the company has lowered its dependency on personal computers, which several years ago, accounted for 95% of AMD's revenue. The company will likely end this year with 60% of its revenue from coming from PCs and the rest coming from other areas such as its semi-custom and embedded/server businesses.
These are new commercial client markets that AMD hopes will improve its product mix, further diversifying its business in areas such as professional graphics, consumer notebooks and Add-In Board channel sales. What's more, in October, Apple said that several of its new line of iMacs will be powered by AMD's Radeon chips, a big win for AMD, and affirming the company's decision to focus on the commercial client market.
To the extent that AMD can continue to secure more design wins and capture share from Intel, the stock can become a swan next year. But like Sprint, this is a long shot.
AMD has a lot of ground to make up, including in changing its perception among analysts that it is a dead stock walking.