Iowa Stocks Showed Volatile Range of 2019 Market

Above: A seasonally changing five-story photo and giant Claes Oldenburg trowel mark the downtown campus of Meredith Corp.

BY STEVE DINNEN

Meredith Corp. shareholders took a beating in 2019 as the Des Moines-based media company shed nearly 38% of its value. That marked a second down year for the long-tenured company that anchors the west side of downtown, as its common shares shed 21% of their value in 2018.

Another media firm, Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, wasn’t far behind Meredith, with a 32.7% decline. Its shares also dropped in 2018.

These investor losses came during what otherwise was a very good year for the market as a whole, and a decent year for Iowa-based companies.

As references, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 22.34% in 2019, while the S&P 500 Index climbed 30.43%. Travel trailer maker Winnebago Industries Inc. blew completely through those numbers with a rise of 118%. It had some ground to make up, as its shares lost 56 % in 2018. (Winnebago’s fortunes are closely tied to the ups and downs of the overall economy, and it is a volatile stock: Over the past 36 years, it has seen its share price drop by more than 50% in four of those years, while it has risen more than 100% five times.)

West Des Moines bank operator West Bancorporation bested both of those benchmarks, as well. Its stock rose 34.2% in 2019, rebounding from a 24% slide the previous year.

NewLink Genetics, of Ames, is another volatile Iowa stock. The clinical stage cancer drug firm posted a 66% gain in 2019, fresh off a share-price decline of 81% in 2018. It currently sells for $1.97 a share, a bare whisper of the $54 it fetched in 2015.

Another Ames company, Workiva rose 17.6% on the back of an impressive 68% runup in 2018.

In the insurance sector, there were mixed results. American Equity Investment Life Holding Co., of West Des Moines, posted a 7.12% gain in 2019. Just a few blocks west, at FBL Financial Group Inc., shares slid 10.2% after a 5.7% drop the year before.

The biggest Iowa insurer and diversified financial service firm Principal Financial Group Inc., saw its share price rise 24.5%. That was a welcome rebound from the 37% loss it posted in 2018. Casey’s General Stores Inc. saw similar 2019 results, with shares rising 24%. This, after a 14.5% climb in 2018.
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