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Most Arkansas-based stocks improve in the second quarter

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

After a rough start to 2014, all but six of the 17 publicly held companies in Arkansas posted higher stock prices through the second quarter ending June 30.

The biggest gainers in the first half of this year were transportation stocks. Van Buren-based USA Truck (NASDAQ: USAK) led the pack as its shares rose 47.66% through the first six months of this year. USA Truck shares closed Monday at $18.59, gaining $6 so far this year. (See box at end of story for list of stocks and their price changes.)

Tontitown-based P.A.M Transportation (NASDAQ: PTSI) also turned things around with a 34.75% increase in its stock price since the start of 2014.  P.A.M shares closed Monday, June 30 at $27.96, picking up more than 7% a share since the year began.

The largest drop came from Little Rock-based Acxiom which saw its share price plummet nearly 41% in the first half of 2014.

The equity markets have tread lightly in 2014, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) beginning the year at 16,441.35, and finishing the first half (June 30) at 16,826.50, up just 2.34%. All but 0.1% of that gain came in the second quarter. The broader S&P 500 began 2014 at 1,831.98 and ended the second quarter at 1,960.23, a 21.39% gain, and its sixth consecutive quarter for growth.

Analysts cite several reasons why U.S. stocks had a bullish second quarter. Short-term interest rates remained near zero and there is continued pressure on longer-term bonds. Reports of global inflation moderating at low levels and stable earnings despite a slower than-expected first quarter growth have kept investors in the game.

Wells Fargo economists believe the economic growth needs to pick up the pace to 3% or so to keep the equity markets moving upward.

THE UPS
Fort Smith-based ArcBest Corp. (NASDAQ: ARCB), the parent company of less-than-truckload carrier ABF Freight System, closed the second quarter at $43.51, up 28.65%  compared to the Jan. 2 closing price of $33.82. ArcBest officials have said growth in the non-asset businesses are necessary to diversify the company’s revenue stream and to help reach a goal of $3 billion in revenue in 2014.

LIttle Rock-based Dillard’s (NYSE: DDS) posted a strong first half of 2014, while other retailers have struggled. Shares of Dillard’s closed the second quarter at $116.61, up nearly 21% so far this year.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) closed the second trading quarter at $37.54, up 13%. The meat giant recently sacrificed share price gains with the announcement to buy Hillshire Brands for $8.55 billion, the largest deal in history for the meat industry. Tyson shares traded as high as $44 per share in early June, ahead of the proposed Hillshire deal.

Little Rock-based Bank of the Ozarks (NASDAQ: OZRK) ended the quarter at $33.45, a healthy 18.79% gain this year. Bank of the Ozark shares recently split two for one on June 23. In the second quarter Bank of the Ozarks closed a deal with Summit Bank.

Pine Bluff-based Simmons First (NASDAQ: SFNC), which also is expanding through acquisition, ended the first half of 2014 at at $39.39, up 8.4% over the Jan. 2 closing price of $36.37. In the second quarter the bank announced the purchase of two banks, one based in Tennessee and one in Missouri. 

Eldorado-based Murphy Oil and Murphy USA were up 4.36% and 16.65%, respectively through the first half of 2014. Little Rock-based Windstream also produced double-digit gains this year on improving revenue.The share price closed Monday at $9.96, up 24.34% from the $8.01 closing price on Jan. 2.

THE DOWNS
Seeing share price declines were Little Rock-based Acxiom (down 40.7%); Bentonville-based America’s Car-Mart (down 5.74%); El Dorado-based Deltic Timber (down 9.43%); Conway-based Home Bancshares (down 9.74%); Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services (down 3.68%); and Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (down 4.87%).

J.B. Hunt Transport (NASDAQ: JBHT), the largest, most diversified logistics company in this report, saw its shares close the second quarter of 2014 at $73.76, Shares are down 3.68% so far this year, following expectations of  lackluster intermodal volumes related to lingering winter stores around Chicago, a major hub for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Hunt reports its second quarter earnings on July 15.

Car-Mart recently posted lighter than expected earnings to end its fiscal year 2014, citing more repossessions, fewer sales and heightened competition in the subprime auto lending sector. The buy here, pay here used car dealer said it was slowing its new store openings to 8 this year as it works to combat the onslaught on competition. 

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Home Bancshares of Conway, also ended the first half of this year on a down note. The bank’s shares (NASDAQ: HOMB) closed Monday at $32.82, down 9.74%. In the recent quarter Home Bancshares purchased Traditions Bank of Florida. Following this deal announced April 28, the combined company had $7.1 billion in total assets, $5.6 billion in deposits, $4.6 billion in loans and 156 branches across Arkansas, Florida and South Alabama.

Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT) struggled with tepid U.S. sales in the first quarter and weather-related charges that lowered profits compared to street expectations. The retail giant expects a stronger second half of the year. Wal-Mart shares dipped 4.87% in the first half of this year to close Monday at $75.97. The retailer remains committed to expanding its small store growth, keeping prices low and expanding its services platform.

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