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Toledo area firms' shares surge

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    Work such as this by Mike Williams, left, and Chad Coffelt on a truck axle at the tech center in Maumee is key to Dana's growth.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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SHARES of companies in the Toledo region made big improvements last year after suffering a beat-down on Wall Street that flattened many of them.

But stock of one firm, Dana Holding Corp., experienced a recovery akin to the return to health of the biblical figure Lazarus.

Shares of the Maumee manufacturer of vehicle axles and drive shafts rose 1,365 percent to $10.84 on Dec. 31 from 74 cents on Jan. 1. A $10,000 investment in the company made at the start of 2009 would have yielded $136,500 by New Year's Eve.

The online investing site Motley Fool included Dana in its list of “nine stocks that shook the market in 2009.” The previous year, the company finished last in total returns among regional firms.

Three other local firms with public stock had strong returns in 2009: Toledo's Libbey Inc., Michigan's La-Z-Boy Inc., and Findlay's Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

Stocks of other companies in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan also rose. After stumbling in 2008, the combined share price of 16 companies in the region with publicly traded stock increased by 33 percent last year.

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“It's been a long time since we've had good news,” said Mike Wilcox, a financial adviser and chief executive officer of Wilcox Financial in Toledo.

“These companies have taken some big hits because of the economy. They've done some cost-cutting. They've shuffled their decks. It's all about leadership.”

The stock performance of the regional firms was enough to beat the results of the Dow Jones industrial average, which rose 19 percent in 2009 to 10,428, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index, up 24 percent to 1,115. The nation's other major stock index, the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite, outdid the local firms by surging 44 percent last year to 2,269.

The local gains followed a dismal 2008, when the Dow declined by a third and the stock of the regional firms plunged by a staggering 46 percent.

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The regional firms include banks, an amusement park operator, a furniture manufacturer, a toy company, auto parts suppliers, a tableware producer, and a building materials manufacturer.

The gains weren't universal.

Five of the regional firms' stock values declined. The steepest drop was for banking firm MBT Financial Corp., of Monroe, whose shares slid 50 percent to $1.50 from $3.04 at the beginning of the year.

Also in the bottom were two banks, toy maker Ohio Art Co. of Bryan, and waste-treatment firm N-Viro International Inc. of Toledo. N-Viro, which like the other firms at the bottom is lightly traded, was the top performer in 2008.

Meanwhile, the stock of four regional firms more than doubled in value. Besides Dana on that list are Libbey, a supplier of glasses and dishes to households and restaurants, which soared 512 percent, La-Z-Boy of Monroe, up 339 percent, and replacement-tire manufacturer Cooper Tire, up 232 percent.

“We're pleased with the recent performance of our stock and remain focused on executing our 2010 plan and further positioning Dana for the future,” said Chuck Hartlage, spokesman for Dana.

The gains at Dana coincided with an overall improvement in auto-industry stocks following reorganization of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC early in the year.

Through the first nine months of the year, the firm lost $201 million on sales of $3.7 billion. Fourth-quarter results aren't available yet. And financial analysts are predicting that Dana's operations will be profitable in 2010.

Himanshu Patel, of JP Morgan, boosted his rating on the firm's stock last month from hold to the equivalent of buy, partly because of expectations of an eventual long-lasting rebound in sales of commercial vehicles, where Dana has heavy emphasis.

In 2008, Dana shares performed worst among publicly traded firms in the Toledo region. They dropped 94 percent to less than $1 from $12 when the stock first traded on the New York Stock Exchange after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February of that year.

This year, the stock has continued to rise, hitting $12.02 Friday.

Shares of Libbey, which were banished from the New York Stock Exchange for eight months after the price collapsed early last year, performed second-best among firms in the region.

The stock has traded on the NYSE Amex market since early January.

“We're pleased for our shareholders — both those who stuck with us and those who were new investors in 2009,” said Ken Boerger, Libbey's vice president and treasurer. “We are focused on providing additional returns for our shareholders in 2010 and broadening our investor base now that we are listed on NYSE Amex.”

At La-Z-Boy, which was badly battered by the housing downturn and foreclosure crisis, spokesman Kathy Liebmann said efficiency moves and cost cuts made in response to problems in the national economy helped the company to improve financial results.

Among measures taken: La-Z-Boy factories abandoned assembly-line production and instead reassigned assemblers to produce furniture as part of work cells.

Helyn Bolanis, president and chief investment officer at Parlan Financial Corp. in Sylvania Township, is impressed by gains made by the top performers in the region. But any evaluation, she cautioned, must consider the low point from which they started.

“These companies were unduly hard-hit by the market downturn,” she said. “When you're coming from such an overexaggerated haircut, you get spectacular results.”

Contact Gary Pakulski at:gpakulski@theblade.comor 419-724-6082.

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