As U.S. stock indexes eked out modest gains in the first quarter, the Star Tribune 100 index of Minnesota’s largest public companies dropped nearly 14 percent.
Some of the state’s best-known companies saw their stocks decline, including a rare drop (of 3.9 percent) for Ameriprise Financial. It has returned 42.9 percent annually to shareholders over the past five years, including dividends.
Large retailers also lost value. Best Buy was down 33.3 percent, and Target dropped 3.6 percent in value in the first quarter. Target has returned 14 percent annually to shareholders, including price and dividend, since March 2009, while Best Buy is down 4.7 percent annually since March 2009.
By comparison, the S&P 500 index of America’s largest companies gained 1.3 percent and the Russell 2000 index of America’s smaller companies was up 0.8 percent for the three months ending in March.
“In the first quarter, people were worried about economic growth slowing and there was a shift toward higher-quality, dividend-paying companies such as utilities, which were up 8.5 percent, and health care, which was up 4.5 percent,” said Martha Pomerantz, a partner and portfolio manager at the Minneapolis office of Evercore Wealth Management. “Consumer discretionary stocks were down. The industrials were down. Best Buy and Target have specific issues.”
But Pomerantz said the economy is improving, so the trend looks to be short-lived. “I think this could be another good year for the market,” she added.
The Star Tribune index, prepared in cooperation with Bloomberg, is not an investment fund. It is price-weighted, and a decline in value by high-priced companies affects the overall price more than low-priced stocks.
That means the first-quarter decline of Winmark, which fell 13.3 percent in value to $75.66 per share on March 31, drives the index more than does the 9.7 percent first-quarter return of Xcel Energy, even though the utility company has a market value that is more than 35 times that of Winmark, a franchiser of retailer stores.
Bull market over?
The downturn in the Star Tribune 100 comes amid a hint of the end of the U.S. bull market.
Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, recently suggested there are similarities between this and the last five-year bull market. The current market is up more than 175 percent on the S&P 500 since the bottom of the Great Recession in March 2009. The previous five-year bull market ended in October 1987, when the market dropped 20 percent in a day.
Both markets featured a “wall of worry” among investors who doubted the strength of the recovery and rebounding stock market along the way, Paulsen wrote in his newsletter.
Paulsen said that history doesn’t usually fully repeat and that investors are more likely to see a short-term correction of around 10 percent at some point this year before the market regroups.
Biff Robillard, a partner in Bannerstone Capital Management of Wayzata, said the sluggish first quarter could reflect an aging bull market that’s running out of gas, but he doesn’t see the wide “divergences” in advancing and declining stocks that usually signal a significant correction. Robillard said the fact that the Dow Jones industrials and transport indexes recently hit new highs is another positive sign.
Gainers and losers
Restaurateur Famous Dave’s was up 33.7 percent in the first quarter and 50 percent annualized since 2009. Piper Jaffray, U.S. Bancorp, UnitedHealth, Hormel and Medtronic also were winners in the first quarter.
Stratasys and Ameriprise Financial have been two of Minnesota’s strongest performing stocks over the past five years. However, they both fell in the first quarter, helping drag the price-weighted index of Minnesota stocks down 13.7 percent to start 2014.
Both stocks had positive gains in eight of the past 10 quarters, boosting the share price of each stock over $100 per share.
Stratasys, the Eden Prairie-based maker of rapid prototyping 3-D printing machines, rose from $30 per share in the fourth quarter of 2011 to more than $130 per share in the fourth quarter of 2013. The stock dropped 21 percent in the first quarter. It has rallied early in the second quarter after Stratasys announced three acquisitions in the past week. Still, the company has returned more than 65 percent annualized over the past five years, during which it also merged with an Israeli technology company.
Best Buy made a turnaround in 2013 under new CEO Hubert Jolly as the stock rose from a beaten-down $12 per share to nearly $45. The “Renew Blue” strategy has included store closings, streamlining and layoffs, but also key product partnerships and a revitalized online offering. But holiday sales disappointed, the competition with Amazon and Wal-Mart is intense and the stock price has fallen back to around $28 per share.
Target, down about 4 percent in the first quarter, has struggled in a tough retail environment and with problems brought on by the massive customer-privacy breach last holiday season, the botched Canadian-stores offensive and other problems.
Bed maker Select Comfort is down 14 percent in the first quarter. It has been a mercurial performer over the years, but is still up a stunning 90 percent annualized since 2009, largely because the stock slipped to under $1 during the recession.
Christopher & Banks, another retailer, was down 22.6 percent in the quarter, but is up 12 percent annualized since 2009.
Great Northern Iron Ore Properties, a non-operations company rooted in Minnesota’s mining and rail past, saw its price fall from $66.75 in January to under $20 recently. Short sellers, who profit when the price goes down, attacked what they said was an overvalued security.
Great Northern Iron Ore Properties is the successor to the land company established by the son of James J. Hill to profit from Iron Range ore hauled by Hill’s Great Northern Railway. The last surviving beneficiary in the trust agreement, Louis W. Hill Jr., died in 1995, triggering the 20-year remaining life of the underlying trust agreement.
That agreement calls for distribution of the remaining money from GNI trustees to shareholders in 2015. It also calls for the transfer at that time of GNI’s mineral properties and active leases to a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co. After shareholders get their final distribution in 2015, the shares will become worthless.