2014 first quarter unkind to most Arkansas-based stocks

Just seven of the 17 publicly held companies based in Arkansas enjoyed a share price gain during the first quarter of 2014, a reversal from the 13 of the 16 followed in 2013 that had share price gains for the year.

The biggest gainer in the quarter was Springdale-based Tyson Foods which saw its share price rise almost $11 to $44.01. The largest drop came from Bentonville-based America’s Car Mart which saw its share price fall almost 13% in the quarter.

The equity markets were just barely able to remain above water during the first quarter. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) began the year at 16,441.35, and finished the quarter (March 31) just over 16 points higher at 16,457.66. And that increase was thanks to a 134.6 point rally on Monday. The DJIA was up more than 23% in 2013, rising from 13,412 points to end the year at 16,576.

The broader S&P 500 began 2014 at 1,831.98 and ended the quarter just slightly higher at 1,872.34. Bad winter weather, rate hike rumblings from a new Fed chief (Janet Yellen) and continued concerns with a labor market that struggles to find solid footing have been cited by some economists and market watchers for the relatively slow start on Wall Street.

THE UPS
Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp. (NASDAQ: ABFS), the parent company of less-than-truckload carrier ABF Freight System, closed the quarter at $36.92, up 9.25% compared to the Jan. 2 closing price of $33.82. A return to positive earnings helped shore up the share price. The company reported Jan. 30 that 2013 net income was $15.8 million, much better than the $7.7 million loss in 2012 and the most the company has earned in a year since 2008. The per share earnings of 59 cents also blew past the consensus estimate of 47 cents per share.

Little Rock-based Bank of the Ozarks (NASDAQ: OZRK) ended the quarter at $65.92, a healthy 20.8% increase from the Jan. 2 closing price of $56.32. The banking operation reported Jan. 16 that full year 2013 net income totaled $87.1 million, a 13.1% increase from $77.0 million for the full year of 2012. The bank is on an expansion path, with its most recent acquisition being the $216 million buyout of Arkadelphia-based Summit Bancorp.

Harrison-based First Federal Bancshares (NASDAQ: FFBH) ended the quarter at $9.17, up 5.16% compared to the Jan. 2 closing price of $8.72.

Pine Bluff-based Simmons First (NASDAQ: SFNC), which also is expanding through acquisition, ended the quarter at $37.27, up 2.47% over the Jan. 2 closing price of $36.37. The bank announced March 24 that it entered into an agreement to buy Little Rock-based Delta Trust for $66 million.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) set a new 52-week high in the first quarter with a strong outlook for the full year. Tyson shares closed March 31 at $44.01, up 2% on the day, while soaring 32.6% in the first quarter. CEO Donnie Smith said the company is able to pass along higher operating costs to customers and is poised for another record year.

Despite troubles with revenue, Little Rock-based Windstream (NYSE: WIN) ended the quarter at $8.24, up 2.87% compared to the Jan. 2 closing price.

THE DOWNS
Seeing share price declines were Little Rock-based Acxiom (down 5.95%); Bentonville-based America’s Car-Mart (down 12.63%); El Dorado-based Deltic Timber (down 2.21%); Little Rock-based Dillard’s (down 4.59%); Conway-based Home Bancshares (down 5.33%); Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services (down 6.1%); El Dorado-based Murphy Oil Corp. (down 1.31%); El Dorado-based Murphy USA Inc. (down 3.14%); Tontitown-based P.A.M. Transport (down 4.19%); and Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (down 3.14%).

J.B. Hunt Transport (NASDAQ: JBHT), the largest, most diversified logistics company in this report, saw its shares close the first quarter of 2014 at $71.92, up 2.79% on the day.  The uptick reverses a first quarter downward trend as the share price declined 6.1% from $76.60 where it began trading in 2014. Analysts with Bank of America recently downgraded JBHT shares from a “buy” to “hold” citing lackluster intermodal volumes related to winter storms around Chicago, a major hub for Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) closed March 31 at $76.43, up 42 cents on the day. Wal-Mart missed earnings expectations as did most retailers in the quarter, but analysts view Wal-Mart has a safe haven given its 2.5% dividend yield.

Shares of America’s Car-Mart Inc. (NASDAQ: CRMT) closed the quarter at $36.66, up 3.4% on the day. The Bentonville-based buy here, pay here used car dealer’s share price tumbled 11.8% during the first quarter from $41.96 where it closed on Jan. 2. Car-Mart has reported competitive pressures from an increase in subprime lending options.

Little Rock-based Dillard’s (NYSE: DDS) may have posted a price decline in the quarter but the company posts the highest share price with a quarter-ending mark of $92.40. However, the price was down from the Jan. 2 closing price of $96.85. As have many retailers around the country, Dillard’s has struggled with sales related to winter weather storms, and market watchers are expressing concerns signs the consumer is moderating spending habits.

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