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Published: Sunday, 7/5/2009

Toledo area stocks turn positive

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

THE KING of recliners is no longer a decliner.

The region s publicly traded companies are getting a lesson this year in financial physics: What goes up must come down, and what goes down comes back up usually.

After being pounded in the stock market in 2008, most of the 16 regional companies with publicly traded shares rebounded in the first half of 2009, buoyed primarily, analysts say, by the notion that things might be looking up.

And leading the turnaround pack was Monroe-based home furniture maker La-Z-Boy Inc., posting a 119 percent return since Jan. 1 after experiencing a 71 percent share-price drop during 2008.

Although La-Z-Boy is still 40 percent off its $7.90 share price of Jan. 1, 2008, the company surprised analysts last month by posting a $5.3 million profit for its latest quarter on revenue that had fallen 23 percent to $284.5 million.

Analysts had anticipated the home furnishings company to lose 11 cents a share instead of turn a 10 cent-a-share profit, and the response sent the stock rocketing from a share price of $2.18 on June 2 to $4.72 at the close of the month.

The company largely cut its way back to profitability, dramatically reducing its operating costs and paying down $28 million in outstanding debt.

The road is still long but we have navigated our way through many hairpin turns and I m proud of the work our team has done, Kurt Darrow, the company s chief executive officer, said in a conference call with analysts last month.

The 16 regional firms as diverse in industries as they are in localities represent just a portion of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan s economies.

But they do offer a window on the economic well-being of a region that reaches from Monroe to Sandusky to Defiance.

And for the first half of this year, at least, most of the 16 have shown improvement.

The 9 percent average gain during the first half of 2009 for the local market basket followed a decline of 46 percent in 2008 and gains of 5 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 2006.

As in past years, results reflect swings in each firm s share price, plus any dividends paid.

(Ten of the 16 firms paid dividends).

The local average gain compares favorably to most of the major market indexes during the same period. gains of 5 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 2006.

As in past years, results reflect swings in each firm s share price, plus any dividends paid.

(Ten of the 16 firms paid dividends).

The local average gain compares favorably to most of the major market indexes during the same period.

The Dow Jones industrial average, a widely watched barometer of the nation s economic performance, fell nearly 4 percent during the first half of the year; the Standard & Poor s 500 index was up almost 2 percent.

Matt Faltys, a personal financial analyst with Fifth Third Bank (Northwestern Ohio), said the worldwide economic meltdown last fall damaged a number of local firms share prices, and the rebound of some stock prices was to be expected.

Others, however, continue to get knocked around.

Libbey s been an interesting one to watch. The whole global recession has hurt them badly, Mr. Faltys said. Cedar Fair chopped its dividend to conserve cash and refinanced some of their debt. They did all the right things, and the stock s getting hammered for it.

He attributed the growth at Libbey Inc. and Dana Holding Corp., especially, to the large percentage swings that a few pennies difference can make in their depressed share prices.

Any percentage move when you re dealing with basically a penny stock, any announcement is going to move the stock around, he said.

The Andersons Inc. s nearly 83 percent increase in the first half of this year has helped return shares of the Maumee agribusiness to a more traditional footing.

Investors pounded the company s stock down 63 percent in 2008, largely because of its exposure to the ethanol industry, a commodity that collapsed along with oil prices in the last half of 2008.

Indeed, the multifaceted company had a tough fourth quarter in 2008, losing $38.2 million before returning to profitability in the first quarter of 2009, when it posted a gain of $14.8 million.

Meanwhile, shares of Dana, a Toledo automotive parts giant, tumbled dramatically in 2008 in the 11 months after it emerged from bankruptcy on Jan. 31, 2008.

Shares of Dana where a new chief executive officer, James Sweetnam, will take over this month rebounded slightly from its early lows this year with the fortunes of its largest client, Ford Motor Co.

Toledo s largest publicly traded company continues to cut expenses, however, and will vacate its Dorr Street campus headquarters this summer in favor of its Maumee research center.

First Defiance Financial Corp. had the largest dollar gain in share price of any of the five financial firms in the basket of local stocks.

The bank holding company posted a $3.41 million profit in April, but its net interest income, its key revenue indicator, rose almost 18 percent from a year ago during the same period.

Meanwhile, shares in Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. have rebounded after the Findlay company announced that it planned to close its factory in Albany, Ga.

Shares of the replacement tire manufacturer hit their lowest point on March 9, dipping below $3 before beginning a steady climb to finish the half-year at $9.92.

A weighted index compiled by Bloomberg News Service of 33 publicly traded companies with a significant presence in the Toledo area shows those stock values hit bottom in March, at 55.85, down from its June, 2007, high of 215.

It finished June at 95.32.

The index is based on a value of 100 in December, 2001.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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