Illustration by Boris Ladwig

Despite market volatility and a terrible fourth quarter, shareholders of some local companies, including Humana, Texas Roadhouse and Yum Brands, enjoyed healthy returns in 2018.

For some local companies, including Churchill Downs, 2018 returns looked great through three quarters — though for others, including Papa John’s, the year turned ugly long before then.

But one data point shows how fortunes of essentially all 14 companies tracked by Insider Louisville changed in the last three months of the year: In each of the first three quarters of 2018, eight or nine of the 14 companies posted gains — but only one, Yum, eked out a gain in the fourth quarter.

The local top performer for 2018 was the tobacco products company Turning Point Brands, shares of which, despite some concerns about tighter regulations for e-cigarettes, rose nearly 29 percent for the year — and that’s even though the stock price fell 34 percent in the fourth quarter.

Humana, freed from huge losses in the Affordable Care Act market, saw its shares rise 15.5 percent last year, despite a double-digit decline in the fourth quarter. Merger speculation, share buybacks and a lower tax bill fueled some of the investor interest, but the company also made headlines with the acquisition of a stake in Kindred Healthcare, as well as a pilot project of senior-focused primary care clinics with partner Walgreens.

Shares of Brown-Forman were dragged down through much of the year by worries about trade tensions. The company’s stock price fell 13.4 percent for the year — though it was down just 3 percent in the second half.

Papa John’s had share price declines in only two of four quarters last year, but the gains were small, 2.1 percent in the first quarter, 1.1 percent in the third, while the losses were big: 11.5 percent in the second quarter and 22.4 percent in the fourth.

For the year, the company’s shares fell 29 percent, tainted by fallout from the company founder John Schnatter’s use of a racial slur, followed by corporate infighting, a poison pill and takeover rumors.

Illustration by Boris Ladwig

Ford Motor Co. shares fell nearly 39 percent last year, suffering losses in all four quarters. Ford, one of the largest Louisville employers, battled declining sales, higher tariff-induced input costs and expectations of yet-to-be-released details of an $11 billion restructuring plan that likely will focus outside of the U.S.

The city’s largest employer, UPS, overcame some labor challenges this year, albeit barely and not without some acrimony among a sizable portion of the Teamsters union. Voting members rejected a contract proposal that was then ratified anyway by union leaders, who are embroiled in a battle for national leadership. Shares fell 18 percent last year, including a 16.5 percent decline in the fourth quarter.

The early-stage drug developer Apellis Pharmaceuticals saw its shares fall 39 percent last year, with essentially all of the decline coming in the second half of the year as the firm dealt with inflammation challenges in clinical trials.

The worst local stock performer of 2018 was the manufacturer Sypris Solutions, which lost than half its value in the second half of the year. Shares had been up nearly 19 percent for the first six months of 2018, but then fell 17 percent in the third quarter and another 43 percent in the fourth. For the year, shares were down 52 percent.

In its most recent earning report, the company, which supplies truck, oil, aerospace and defense industries, said it had lost $3.3 million through three quarters, though that was better than the $9.6 million it lost in the first nine months of the prior year.

While the company’s shares have traded as high as $1.90 in the last year, they ended 2018 at 78 cents, which could spell further trouble: The Nasdaq has a minimum bid price of $1, which means the company could be in danger of being delisted, though it’s a problem with which Sypris leaders have some familiarity.

The CBOE Volatility Index chart for last year. | Screenshot courtesy of Yahoo Finance

The CBOE Volatility Index spiked toward the end of the year, and if the year’s first trading day provided an indication, volatility looks to be here to stay: The Dow on Wednesday fell about 350 points at the opening bell, though it had recovered about two-thirds of that decline by noon.

Bloomberg reported, “The world’s largest banks and money managers are gearing up for the last hurrah of one of the longest bull markets in history.”

The news agency said that while Bank of America predicts continued volatility and slower GDP growth in the second half of the year, JP Morgan said, “Before this cycle is finished, equities can still deliver a period of significant outperformance versus fixed income.”

Boris Ladwig

Boris Ladwig

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.