When we launched the inaugural Stockopedia Stock Picking Challenge at the start of 2020, there were very few clues about the trouble that lay ahead. Without doubt, the social and economic impact of Covid will be felt for a long time yet. But in the stock market, the collapse in prices last March gave way to a steady recovery. Amid the trauma of the past year, it was still possible to make solid returns from shares - and many investors did.

The Stock Picking Challenge is our annual invitation to investors everywhere to come up with their five Top Stock Picks for the year ahead. At stake is the prestige of outperforming thousands of the smartest stock-pickers around, and the chance to win some impressive prizes too.

In 2020 we had more than 2,100 entries and the overall winning selection - with a return of 632.7% - only emerged in the final few days of the year. More on those winning picks shortly...

A year of turmoil...

It wasn’t long after launching last year’s challenge that Covid-related problems began to blow up. The human misery was shocking and the economic consequences were disturbing. In terms of shares, the sudden and severe wave of fear caused markets to plunge.

After a benign start, suddenly all bets were off when it came to company earnings and valuations. It was instantly impossible to predict what would happen in the near term, let alone weeks or even months out.

But even in the early phases of the virus, some trends were starting to emerge. An interesting one was the rise of small-cap biotech and pharma stocks that were playing a role in Covid testing and related fields. After seemingly years of being maligned, some of these speculative stocks were suddenly delivering spectacular gains - and some still are.

In fact it was biotech shares that helped take the first quarter win for Stockopedia user Rich the Newbie, with a 161.8% gain. All the more impressive is that Rich’s stock selection was still in contention right up until the close of the year. He finished in a creditable 8th place with a return of 521.0%.

Indeed, a few of the top ten best performers overall were very consistent right through the year - including Shai C (an impressive second with 572.3%) and Steve Byrne (SeaRd (who took the third quarter win and…

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