Heard Off the Street: Stocks in Western Pennsylvania outpaced the markets

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Western Pennsylvania stocks outpaced healthy gains by major market indexes in 2013, with 3-D printer The ExOne Company [ticker: XONE] leading the pack.

The Post-Gazette/Bloomberg index of regional stocks, which includes companies based here as well as companies with headquarters elsewhere but with substantial operations in the region, jumped 33.9 percent last year. The performance outpaced the 29.6 percent advance of the S&P 500 and a 26.5 percent jump in the Dow Jones industrials.

After rising only 10.8 percent in the first half of the year, the Post-Gazette/Bloomberg index surged in the final six months. The energized second-half performance was reflected in the resuscitation of AK Steel [AKS].

The West Chester, Ohio, steel producer was the worst performing stock in the first half, but rallied over the final six months to advance 78.3 percent for the year. The made AK Steel the region's fifth-best performing stock.

It was not the only local steel producer to come alive in the second half. U.S. Steel [X], which was off 26.5 percent in the first half, finished the year up 23.4 percent. The shares have jumped sharply on investor hopes that new president and CEO Mario Longhi will be able to deliver cost cuts and efficiencies through Project Carnegie, an initiative announced in April.

Top performer ExOne finished the year up 235.9 percent, benefiting from voracious investor appetite for shares of 3-D printing companies. North Huntingdon-based ExOne, which went public in February at $18 per share, closed 2013 at $60.46.

PG graphic: 2013's best, worst performing stocks

Only five of the 57 stocks in the regional index lost ground last year. South Side teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters [AEO] was the biggest laggard, sliding 29.8. Competition from retailers targeting the same market has led to discounts and promotions and sharply lower profits. Chronically high teen unemployment has also dented American Eagle shares.

The second-best performance was turned in by Supervalu [SVU], which supplies Foodland and Shop 'n Save stores in the region and operates a distribution center in New Stanton. Shares of the Eden Prairie, Minn., food distributor jumped 195.1 percent, benefiting from a restructuring that saw the company sell five of its biggest grocery store chains. Despite the advance, Supervalu remained the worst performing stock in the regional index over the last five years, when its shares lost 50.1 percent of their value.

The region's top performing stock over the last five years, Wesco International [WCC], finished 2013 with a respectable advance of 35.1 percent. But in a year when the bulls ran wild, that was only good enough to put the Station Square-based industrial parts distributor in the middle of the regional stock pack.

For-profit educator Education Management [EDMC], the worst performing regional stock in 2012, turned in the third-best performance last year, jumping 130.4 percent. The advance came in spite of shrinking enrollment, back-to-back losses in its most recent fiscal years, an ongoing lawsuit over recruiting practices, and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of the way it accounts for goodwill.

Vitamin and mineral supplement retailer GNC Holdings [GNC], the index's top performer in 2011, returned to the top 10 in 2013, jumping 75.6 percent to finish sixth. In October, the company reported a 13 percent increase in profits for the first nine months of the year and raised its full year outlook.

Wilmerding-based Wabtec [WAB], a perennial regional blue chip, was the eighth-best performing stock in 2013, advancing 69.9 percent. The rail and transit industries supplier's profits jumped 17 percent in the first nine months of last year.

Horsehead Holding [ZINC] edged by Cecil generic drugmaker Mylan [MYL] to make the top 10. The Robinson-based zinc producer is winding down production at its Monaca plant and transferring it to a new facility in Mooresboro, N.C., a move that is expected to dramatically reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Horsehead's shares jumped 58.8 percent last year, topping Mylan's 58.1 advance.

Stocks losing ground last year included Joy Global [JOY]. Slumping coal industry conditions sent shares of the Milwaukee mining equipment company down 8.3 percent.

Five of last year's 10 worst performers actually made money for investors who held them at the beginning of the year. Shareholders of AmeriServ Financial [ASRV] did a little better than the average money market fund investor, as shares of the Johnstown banker scratched out a 0.7 percent gain. Also bringing up the rear was Commercial National Financial [CNAF]. Shares of the Latrobe-based bank advanced 4.4 percent.

The Post-Gazette/Bloomberg index lost four members to acquisitions last year: H.J. Heinz, Moon engineering concern Michael Baker, Cranberry teen clothier rue21, and steel industry supplier TMS International. Two companies were added to the index as the result of initial public offerings: ExOne and TriState Capital Holdings [TSC], the parent of TriState Capital Bank. Shares of the Pittsburgh bank rose 3.1 percent after their debut in May.

Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.

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