Best International Stock (+283%): India consumes more than $20 billion worth of whiskey each year—the most in the world—and United Spirits is the nation’s largest distiller. The company’s sales doubled in four years. The United Kingdom’s Diageo bought a controlling stake in United Spirits in November.
Best Bond Fund (+26%): The GMO Emerging Country Debt Fund invests in debt issued by emerging-market countries, a strategy that’s worked in nine of the last 10 years. Its top holding is Venezuelan bonds, a sign that its managers are willing to take risks in particularly unstable countries.
Best Initial Public Offering (+105%): Retailer Five Below sells candy, stationery, and beauty products priced at $5 or less and aimed at teenagers. Sales are growing 47 percent a year.
Best Equity Mutual Fund (+39%): The Fidelity Select Biotechnology Portfolio spreads $2.7 billion in assets over 131 biotechnology stocks. A top holding: Gilead Sciences, the California-based biopharmaceutical company.
Best Commodity (+24%): Wheat prices rose in 2012 as drought cut into supply from the grain belts of Russia, Australia, and the U.S. Wheat is a $14.4 billion crop in the U.S., where it ranks fourth behind corn, soybeans, and hay.
Best Exchange-Traded Fund (+77%): Signs of a housing recovery sent shares of homebuilders soaring this year, boosting the IShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund.
Worst Exchange-Traded Fund (-79%): The ProShares VIX Short-Term Futures ETF holds futures contracts that are profitable when the VIX index, a measure of U.S. stock market volatility, rises. 2012 was a calm year.
Worst Commodity (-35%): Abundant supply is depressing coffee prices. Brazil, the world’s largest grower, has almost doubled its output in the past decade, producing another record crop this year.
Worst Equity Mutual Fund (-17%): The Federated Prudent Bear Fund holds gold mining stocks and other investments it expects will do well in times of financial stress. That strategy suffers in years such as 2012, when stocks rise.
Worst Initial Public Offering (-30%): Facebook plunged as much as 53 percent after its $16 billion debut in May. The stock rallied on news that third-quarter sales rose 32 percent, beating analysts’ estimates.
Worst Bond Fund (+.12%): While the GMO U.S. Treasury Fund may just barely be holding its value at yearend, its extremely cautious strategy means returns aren’t keeping up with inflation. The fund is invested entirely in U.S. Treasury bills, government debt that matures in less than a year.
Worst U.S. Large-Cap Stock (-43%): Hewlett-Packard’s annus horribilis was marked by a third-quarter loss that was its worst ever, including an $8 billion writedown related to the dwindling value of its enterprise services business. HP later took an $8.8 billion writedown related to accounting problems at Autonomy, a software maker it acquired last year. In September, HP announced plans for 29,000 job cuts.
Worst International Stock (-81%): The biggest target for the European Union’s bailout fund for Spanish banks, Bankia, forecasts it will lose $25 billion in 2012. The bank, formed last year from the merger of seven regional savings banks damaged by Spain’s real estate downturn, is in the midst of cutting more than a quarter of its workforce.