Maybe Minnesota companies aren’t such stock performance laggards, at least over the long term.
As the Star Tribune reported earlier this month, publicly held Minnesota companies significantly underperformed big stock indexes over the last year to three years, including the S&P 500 index of America’s largest companies and the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies in 2017.
The Piper Jaffray Minnesota index of 52 of the larger Minnesota companies, including a few out-of-staters that have large operations here, markedly underperformed the broad indexes. And the broader index of about 71 listed Minnesota companies also lagged, according to Bloomberg Financial.
However, Minnesota companies look much better over the last decade, since the 2008 start of the Great Recession and through the long, nine-year economic-and-market recovery that started in the spring of 2009.
For example, of 71 Minnesota pubic companies traded on listed exchanges, 36 topped the total return of the S&P 500 over the last decade. And 32 outperformed the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies.
Far fewer Minnesota companies outperformed those indexes in 2017, or over the last three years. “The indexes in the last few years have been dominated by the technology companies like Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google, making it difficult for more industrial-type Minnesota companies to outperform,” said Martha Pomerantz, a partner in the Minneapolis office of Evercore Wealth Management. “Over the longer 10-year period, Minnesota companies have benefited from the upturn in the general economy.”
Over the last decade (and through Jan. 25), three dozen Minnesota companies returned price appreciation and dividends equal to or greater than the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000.
“Great companies show their stripes when things are rough,” said Mark Henneman, chief executive of Mairs and Power Investments of St. Paul, whose Minnesota-dominated Growth Fund bested the S&P 500 over the last decade. “It’s a lot easier to make up ground when you are 20 percent down in 2008 than 80 percent. To build wealth and generate great returns, you have to manage yourself well. We built a portfolio of pretty conservative companies … and they may look a little out of sync over the last year or two, but they performed over the long run.”
Henneman is talking about companies such as Toro, up 546 percent over the last decade; Sleep Number (470 percent), Graco (416 percent), UnitedHealth Group (454 percent), 3M (262 percent) and Fastenal (243 percent).
Proto Labs, the fast-growing digital modeling and prototyping company, is up 255 percent, although less than a decade old.
These companies, as well as Donaldson, another Minnesota cornerstone industrial that beat the indexes, and logistics firm C.H. Robinson, survived the Great Recession in relatively good shape. And their stocks moved up faster than average in the early years of the recovery.
They tended to be run fairly conservatively and have diversified their businesses. They avoided huge disruptions and layoffs during the 2008-2009 recession. Most were ready when the order book started to grow in 2009 and 2010. They also had cash to cushion against the lean times.
“Toro initially under the leadership of CEO Ken Melrose and then stewarded by CEO Mike Hoffman [who retired after a decade in 2016], implemented a new level of financial discipline that generated tremendous value for shareholders,” said Beth Lilly, the veteran Twin Cities portfolio manager who owns Crocus Hill Partners. “They improved operating margins and reduced costs.”
At Deluxe Corp., which returned 232 percent to shareholders over the last decade, the board recruited CEO Lee Schram in 2006. He accelerated the transition from check-printing company to a small business-services company, including financial documents.
Schram did consolidate several plants early on, but now runs a larger company with more employees.
“Under his leadership, Deluxe has transitioned from a no-growth, single-product company to more of a small-business services organization with high single-digit growth and strong margins,” Lilly said. “When Lee took over as CEO, Deluxe stock was in the low teens. Today the price is around $74.”
Clearfield, the Brooklyn Park-based fiber optic and telecommunications-product manufacturer, is far from the biggest, but it was the best Minnesota company to own from Jan. 1, 2008 through last Thursday. It posting a total rerun of 1,114 percent over that period.
The price of Clearfield, a small-capitalization company valued at about $170 million, has risen from about $1 per share in 2009 to $12 per share recently. It has focused on customers in fast-growing industries.
Another small-cap company, Winmark, valued at about $530 million, has risen in price from around $10 per share in 2009 to $140 per share.
Led by Chairman John Morgan, also it’s CEO for nearly 20 years, Morgan is also the single largest shareholder. Winmark operates secondhand retailers such as Play it Again Sports, and provides business services to many of its franchisees and other small businesses.
It’s not been all gravy for Minnesota companies. Some have underperformed the national indexes over the last decade.
That includes big names such as Best Buy, with a total return of 69 percent. And Target lagged with a return of 67 percent. Both dismissed their CEOs several years ago and hired new leadership in Hubert Joly at Best Buy and Brian Cornell at Target.
They are credited with doing a credible job of improving operations during a period when big retailers were losing market share to Amazon and other exclusively online-shopping operations.
Twenty of the 71 listed Minnesota stocks posted negative returns for the decade.
These included the well-chronicled shareholder-horror stories about Regis, Famous Dave’s, Northern Oil & Gas, Christopher & Banks and Supervalu.