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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2004

Holding to basics yields big gains

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER

This week, the Dow Jones industrial average rebounded to the highest level since June 13, 2001 - three months before the Sept. 11 terrorist acts - and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock average and the Nasdaq composite index are about where they were 3 1/2 years ago, too.

But Toledo-area corporations have done even better on the whole: Shares of eight companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange have gained an average of 45 percent in the last 3 1/2 years, and seven traded on Nasdaq are up an average of 47 percent.

One reason: Many firms have done all the right things - including focusing on their primary businesses and selling off other units, paying down debt, and returning to profitability. Others have acquired competitors or otherwise expanded their markets, recruited new leadership, and gotten Wall Street's attention.

The best performer among these firms is Owens-Illinois Inc., whose stock gained 240 percent, from $6.70 a share to $22.81. In the last year or so, O-I, now the world's largest glass-container maker, set aside $450 million for its asbestos-injury liabilities, bought a large European glassmaker for $1.3 billion, sold off a plastic-bottle unit for $1.2 billion, and paid down about $1.2 billion of its debt. In recent weeks, O-I stock gained 35 percent on the New York Stock Exchange.

The best performer among the Nasdaq companies is The Andersons Inc., up 193 percent since June, 2001. Recently, The Andersons hit an all-time high of $25.80 and then fell back a bit to close at $25.30 Thursday, nearly three times its June 13, 2001, price of $8.64. Other big gainers on NYSE, compared to June, 2001, are Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., up 64 percent; Health Care REIT Inc., up 54 percent; Cedar Fair LP, up 43 percent, and Manor Care Inc., up 35 percent.

Cooper went through a restructuring, settled many product-liability lawsuits, and this week closed the sale of its Cooper-Standard auto-parts unit for nearly $1.2 billion. Its stock closed Thursday at $22.13.

Health Care REIT, now at $36.83, more than doubled its assets, to $2.5 billion in recent years. Manor Care has steadily grown its nursing-home revenue, paid down debt, and increased dividends, and its stock is now at $34.52 a share. Cedar Fair, at $32.61 currently, added properties, including a Six Flags park near Cleveland.

Three other NYSE companies lost ground, including Dana Corp., down 20 percent in 3 1/2 years, to $17.35, despite a massive restructuring and the selloff of its replacement-parts unit for $1 billion. Others dropping in value are Libbey Inc., off 36 percent, to $21.50, and La-Z-Boy Inc., down 17 percent to $15.10. Libbey recently shut a California plant, and La-Z-Boy has been hurt by plant closings and Chinese imports.

Some big Nasdaq gainers are two banks that have been actively acquiring other banks, Sky Financial Group Inc., up 48 percent, to $28.07, and First Defiance Financial Corp., up 65 percent, to $27.95. Owens Corning, in the fifth year of bankruptcy, is up 33 percent, to $3.82, apparently because of investor hopes of a congressional asbestos bailout. Rurban Financial Corp. is up 3 percent, to $13.85, after solving its bad-loan problem and hiring new management.

Two Nasdaq stocks are down a bit: Tecumseh Products Co., off 9 percent, at $47.50, in the last 3 1/2 years, and N-Viro International Corp., down 5 percent, to $1.90 a share. Ohio Art Co. is down about 50 percent, to $6.70 a share. The toymaker was voluntarily delisted this year from the American Stock Exchange, after 35 years and is now on the Pink Sheets quotation system.

Contact Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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