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In a year when 12 of the 15 stocks on the Arkansas Index lost ground, America's Car-Mart posted a whopping 62 percent return.

The Bentonville-based "buy here, pay here" used car company benefited from higher average sales prices per vehicle in 2018, said Nathan Green, a financial adviser with Simmons First Investment Group Inc. in Searcy.

"Car-Mart continued to expand by adding four new dealerships with plans for additional dealerships in 2019," Green said.

Car-Mart operates 143 dealerships in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Car-Mart's customers often do not have access to traditional vehicle financing because of poor credit or no credit history.

In recent years, Car-Mart has seen increased competition for its customer base from traditional car dealers that are offering newer vehicles with extended loan terms to those with poor credit.

Car-Mart extended the repurchase of its stock on the open market, Green said.

"Since 2010 we have repurchased over 51 percent of our company for $212 million at an average price of approximately $35 per share," Vickie Judy, Car-Mart's chief financial officer, said in November during the firm's second-quarter earnings report.

P.A.M. Transportation Services had an almost 15 percent increase in its stock price during 2018, the second-best performance of the year on the state index.

P.A.M. continued to emphasize fleet growth as a driving factor of its calendar year increase in operating income, Green said.

"[Regarding competition for drivers in 2018], conditions affecting our ability to hire and retain qualified driving professionals are paramount to our continued success," company president Daniel Cushman said in October during P.A.M.'s third-quarter earnings report. "We constantly monitor the driver market to ensure that we remain a favorable option for these professionals."

Dillard's was the only other Arkansas company on the index to see a 2018 gain in share price, rising less than 1 percent.

"It was a difficult year for many traditional retailers as online spending continued to increase competition and pressure profit margins," Green said. "According to the Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales hit another record high in 2018 as a percentage of overall retail sales."

Shares of Dillard's began 2018 near $60 and increased to over $98 in June before trending back to where they started the year, Green said.

Windstream lost about three-fourths of its value last year, by far the worst fall of any of the stocks on the Arkansas Index, a price-weighted index that tracks the largest public companies based in the state. Windstream shares closed 2018 at $2.09, down 77 percent.

Windstream decreased its authorized shares of stock in May as it completed a 1-for-5 reverse stock split, Green said.

"Windstream continues to await a decision in a complex court case brought by Aurelius Capital Management involving the company's bonds," Green said. "Closing arguments were heard earlier in the year, but the pending decision continues to hang over the company."

Bank OZK, formerly known as Bank of the Ozarks, had the second-worst loss during 2018, falling 53 percent in value.

Shareholders of Arkansas' three publicly traded banks -- Bank OZK, Home BancShares and Simmons First National -- saw significant declines in the market value of their stocks last year, said Garland Binns, a Little Rock banking attorney with the firm of Dover Dixon Horne.

Shares of Home BancShares fell 30 percent in 2018, and Simmons dropped 15 percent.

"It will likely take time to recoup the market losses that resulted in 2018," Binns said. "Investors have a reasonable degree of uncertainty in the banking sector and are struggling to find confidence in the stock market going into 2019."

Tyson Foods' shares fell 34 percent during 2018.

"It was a year of transition for Tyson Foods as it made multiple acquisitions, investments in startups and sold a few segments of business," Green said. "The transactions reinforced Tyson's commitment to a continued focus on protein based foods."

The year also included a change in leadership as Noel White was appointed chief executive officer after Tom Hayes stepped down from the post, Green said.

All 15 stocks in the Arkansas Index fell in the fourth quarter.

Wal-Mart managed the best return in the fourth quarter, falling about 1 percent. Windstream had the worst return in the quarter, dropping 57 percent.

The Arkansas Index fell 9.2 percent in 2018. The index hit its all-time high of 467.87 in August and its 52-week low of 348.00 on Christmas Eve. It ended the year at 368.57.

Business on 01/01/2019

Print Headline: Car-Mart's 62% rise leads Arkansas Index

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