13 of 16 Arkansas publicly held companies see stock gains in 2013

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

The equity markets were kind during 2013 to Arkansas’ publicly-held companies, with shareholders of 13 of the 16 companies seeing a price gain during the year. Arkansas’ trucking companies saw some of the biggest share price gains in 2013.

Despite a straggling economy, U.S. corporate earnings rose for a fourth straight year as 2013 wound to a close. Total earnings for S&P 500 companies in 2013 are forecast to increase 5.37%, to a record $109.03 a share, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

Analysts like Paul Atkinson of Aberdeen Assets Management said, "It's tough to argue that companies are in anything other than good health."

Stronger earnings are generally the basis for higher stock prices, but much of Wall Street’s 2013 wealth is linked to the Fed's easy money policies amid a modestly improving economy. With that, U.S. stocks will close their best year since 1995.

The Dow Jones index is up 29% this year including dividends, while the broader S&P 500 index rose 32% for the full year. Analysts said investors could have sleep walked through 2013 and still made money by investing in one of the major index funds.

TRUCKERS ROLL HIGHER
Some of the biggest Arkansas turnarounds came from trucking firms, Arkansas Best Corp., USA Truck and P.A.M. Transportation, each posting triple-digit stock price gains during 2013.

Van-Buren-based USA Truck (NASDAQ: USAK) closed the year with a share price of $13.60, trading 4.33% lower on the day amid profit taking. The stock rose 297% during 2013, after starting the year at $3.49. Stock volatility was fueled in part by a hostile takeover bid from Knight Transportation.

P.A.M. Transportation (NASDAQ: PTSI), a dry van carrier based in Tontitown, saw its shares close 2013 at $20.61, down 1.20% on the day. During 2013, P.A.M. shares rose 108% from $9.89 where the stock traded on Jan. 2.

Shares of Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp. (NASDAQ: ABFS) closed the year at $33.68, down 15 cents on the day. The transportation stock reached a high price of $35.96 in the past 52 weeks and ended the year up 246%, after trading at $9.72 on Jan. 2. Helping to boost confidence in the company was the completion in 2013 of a new five-year labor agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport (NASDAQ: JBHT), the largest, most diversified logistics company in this report, saw its shares close the year at $77.30. The share price rose 26.63% from its Jan. 2 closing price of $61.04. 

MIXED TECH RESULTS
As a sector, technology fared well in 2013, but results were mixed among the state’s two publicly-held tech companies.

Little Rock-based technology firm Acxiom (NASDAQ: ACXM) had a big year posting triple-digit stock gains as its shares closed 2013 at $36.98, up 23 cents on the day and 101% for the full year.

Acxiom shares were trading at $18.37 back on Jan. 2 and the steady price gains helped the firm grow its market cap to $2.78 billion this past year.

Shares of Little Rock-based Windstream Holdings (NASDAQ: WIN) closed the year at $7.97, down 5 cents on the day. During 2013 the technology firm’s shares slid 9.43% from the $8.80 share price reached on Jan. 2.

BANKING PROFITS
The financial sector as a whole posted its strongest profits since the 2008 recession but the share gains among Arkansas banks varied widely. Each of the four banks in this report acquired other institutions during 2013, expanding their footprints while also taking on more risk.

Home Bancshares of Conway (NASDAQ: HOMB) closed out 2013 at $37.33 per share. This growing bank’s stock price rose 120% during 2013 from $16.90 where it traded on Jan. 2. The bank holding company for Centennial Bank recently closed its $285 million acquisition of Liberty Bank, which created the second largest Arkansas-based bank behind Arvest.

LIttle Rock-based Bank of the Ozarks (NASDAQ: OZRK) also posted strong gains as its shares closed the year at $56.59. The shares increased 65% in value during 2013, rising from $34.37 back on Jan 2.

Share of Simmons First National Corp. (NASDAQ: SNFC) closed 2013 at $37.15. The Pine Bluff-based bank saw its share price rise 42% during 2013, up from $26.10 on Jan. 2. Simmons recently acquired Metropolitan National Bank which gives it a much larger market share in Little Rock and substantial real estate holdings in Northwest Arkansas. This deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014.

First Federal Bancshares of Harrison (NASDAQ: FFBH) reported a closing stock price of $8.70 for the 2013 year. The share value was down 8.61% for the full year of trading and one of the few companies to post negative gains in 2013.

UNPREDICTABLE RETAIL, CONSUMERS
Consumer attitudes greatly impact retail sales from cars to clothes and 2013 was anyone’s guess from month-to-month how fickle shoppers would act. Higher-end retailers returned better results as a group than big box discounters. New car sales outperformed expectations and used car sales were strong as more subprime lending opportunities became available.

Shares of Dillard’s Inc. (NYSE: DDS) closed out 2013 at $96.21, up 59 cents on the day. For the full year, the Little Rock-based retailer’s shares rallied 18% from the opening price of $81.53 to start 2013.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) closed 2013 at $78.69, up 6 cents on the day. Shares of the retail giant rose 13.64% during the entire year, up from $69.24 back on Jan. 2. Analysts view Wal-Mart as a safe haven investment given its size and the 2.4% dividend yield it pays.

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Shares of America’s Car-Mart Inc. (NASDAQ: CRMT) closed the year at $42.23. The Bentonville-based buy here, pay here used car dealer saw its share price increase just 3.07% in all of 2013. Despite an aggressive 10% growth rate in dealerships during the year, the company missed its second quarter earnings estimate while facing competitive pressures and tougher operating climate.

El Dorado-based Deltic Timber (NYSE: DEL) closed out the year at $67.94, down $1.29 on the day and down from the Jan. 3 closing price of $71.37. Despite the decline, it was a notable year for the timber, manufacturing and real estate-holding company. Deltic Timber Corp. acquired the remaining 50% interest in Del-Tin Fiber, LLC , a subsidiary of Temple-Inland. The $20 million deal immediately boosted Deltic’s bottom line and led to a record year in profits.

FOOD AND FUEL
Springdale-based Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) posted solid gains in 2013 as its share price closed Dec. 31 at $33.46, up 68% for the full year. Tyson Foods saw its stock price rise from $19.89 a share on Jan. 2, and recently set a 52-week high of $34.38.
 
Shares of Eldorado-based Murphy Oil (NYSE: MUR) closed 2013 at $64.88, up 74 cents on the day. Year-to-date, the company stock price rose 24%, from $52.31 where it traded on Jan. 2.

Murphy USA shares (NYSE: MUSA) closed Dec. 31 at $41.56, down 1.28% on the day. This company began trading on Sept. 3 at $37.51 after being spun off from parent Murphy Oil. Shares rose 10.79% between Sept. 3 and the end of 2013.

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