The stock of Piper Jaffray closed at a new 52-week high of $39.10 on more than twice normal volume Wednesday after the Minneapolis-based investment banker posted strong year-end earnings and a positive outlook.

The shares of Piper, considered an under-performer by analysts for years, have nearly doubled since last summer as the stock market surged and Piper got beyond some strategies that did not work out. Piper's stock price has already exceeded the consensus analyst target price for this year.

"We produced solid results for the [fourth] quarter and the year despite adverse market conditions facing several of our businesses," CEO Andrew Duff said. "Our strategy served us well as we focused our resources on our businesses where we are strongest, working to generate higher margins and improving our return on equity."

Piper earned a profit of $15.3 million in the fourth quarter from continuing operations (compared with a loss a year ago), on net revenue that grew 7 percent to $140.9 million.

For the year, Piper posted a $49.5 million profit from continuing operations on net revenue that grew 13 percent to $489 million compared with an $89 million loss in 2011.

Duff cited strong performance in the mergers-and-acquisition business as well as a strong year in public finance underwriting and equity financing.

"The company's performance has been definitely spotty in recent years," said Michael Wong, an analyst at Morningstar in Chicago. "I like what Duff is doing by focusing on higher-margin businesses, such as public finance and their mergers-and-acquisition advisory business. He started that two or so years ago, when they quit trying to be everything to everybody. They are finally focusing on their strongest niches. They have cleaned up their business and seem to be heading in the right direction."

Piper's earnings last year were adversely affected by slower business, asset writedowns and discontinuance at its since-shuttered Hong Kong capital markets business.

Duff said return on shareholders' equity more than doubled in 2012 to 5.7 percent.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144


(PJC) General securities brokerage, corporate and public finance.

4th quarter FY2012, 12/31

2012 2011 % chg. Revenue $150.0 $99.9 +50.2 Cont. ops. 15.4 -115.4 -- Disc. ops. -3.7 -0.4 -- Income 11.8 -116.4 -- Net/cm 10.2 -116.4 -- Earn/share 0.67 -7.38 --

12 months

Revenue $518.2 $463.7 +11.8 Cont. ops. 49.5 -89.3 -- Disc. ops. -5.8 -11.2 -- Income 41.3 -102.0 -- Net/cm 35.3 -102.0 -- Earn/share 2.26 -6.51 --

Figures in millions except for earnings per share.