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The Elbert Files: A wobbly stock market


The Dow: September is historically a volatile month for investors, but it’s hard to imagine it being worse than August this year.

Last month, the Dow Jones industrial average posted several triple-digit direction changes, beginning with a loss of 1,504 points (5.5%) between July 29 and Aug. 5, followed by what traders call a “dead cat bounce” – up 661 points, down 482, back up 383, then down 800 points on Aug. 14.

During the last half of the month, things were marginally quieter. The Dow climbed 656 points, dropped 173, regained 290 and fell 624 points on Aug. 23. The final week the Dow pushed up 775 points to close 461 points below its July finish. 

It was a rough road, but at the end of August the Dow was up 2,970 points (12.7%) for the year.

Iowa companies: The market performance of Iowa’s 17 largest publicly traded companies has been all over the map in 2019, with eight posting gains through August and nine showing losses.

The two biggest gainers were Ankeny-based Casey’s General Stores and Workiva, the Ames startup that provides data crunching tools to large businesses. On Aug. 30, Casey’s shares closed at just $167.85, up 31.6% for the year; Workiva closed at $48.11, up 31.2%. 

Casey’s benefited from a $20 boost in June following a better-than-expected earnings report.

Workiva shares climbed steadily during the first half of 2019. The technology company received an $8 boost from a favorable earnings report in early August but was unable to maintain the gain in the volatile market.    

Shares of Des Moines-based insurer Principal Financial Group, Iowa’s largest public company, began the year at $44.39, topped $60 in late July and ended August at $52.66, a 19.9% gain for the year.

Shares of three other Iowa insurers were all down by double digits at the end of August.

West Des Moines-based American Equity Investment Life Holding Co. saw its shares fall 25.9% during the eight months, while shares of FBL Financial Group, also based in West Des Moines, fell 19.8% and Cedar Rapids-based United Fire Group Inc. was down 16.9% for the year.

Four Iowa banking companies posted varying results for the eight months. Shares of Iowa City-based MidWestOne Financial Group rose 15.1%; West Des Moines-based West Bank gained 7.3%; Ames National Corp. climbed 3.9% and Dubuque-based Heartland Financial lost 2.0%.

Results for three Iowa manufacturing companies varied widely.

Forest City’s motor home manufacturer Winnebago Industries began the year at $24.97, climbed to $40.30 in late July and ended August at $32.02, a 28.2% gain for the year. 

Muscatine-based office furniture manufacturer HNI Corp. began the year at $36.15, and climbed to $41.80 in February before sliding the next six months to end August at $31.19, down 13.7% for the year.

Furniture manufacturer Flexsteel Industries of Dubuque, which is undergoing a restructuring, saw a decline in its share price from $24.17 at the beginning of the year to $15.14 at the end of August.

Shares of Ames-based biodiesel maker Renewable Energy Group also saw a steady erosion from January through August, falling from $26.07 to $12.17.

Iowa’s two media companies also lost ground. Des Moines-based magazine and broadcast owner Meredith Corp. lost 15.6% during the eight months, while Davenport newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises dropped 19.1%.  

Finally, shares of Heartland Express, the North Liberty trucking company, hit several bumps but pushed on. The company began 2019 at $18.49 a share, climbed to $21.14 in February, drifted back to $17.38 in June and ended August at $20.57, up 11.3% for the eight months.

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