But a quick look at the Business Journal’s list of top performing local stocks brings to mind the old joke that the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff occasionally pulled on brokers and stock analysts during the ’80s.
The staff tacked the Journal’s stock pages onto the office wall and then, literally, threw several darts at them, letting the darts select a hypothetical investment portfolio.
The editorial staff often was able to report months later that their chance choices outperformed the Dow and did as well or better in the market than the analysts’ glib picks.
Whatever invisible hand was at work then or now, it’s plain that the stocks of a number of West Michigan firms certainly have outpaced the performance of the broader American Stock Exchange.
Where the Dow was about 10,400 at the end of April last year — even then being down nearly 1,000 points from its record high — for the past two weeks, it has been waffling back and forth between 7,900 and 8,500, still about 20 percent below its high for the current 12-month period
In fact, a month ago it dipped to 7,400.
By contrast, look at Riviera Tool Co. (RTC/AMEX).
The Grand Rapids die maker — which serves Tier 1 suppliers and, directly, the Big Three and BMW — has a stock performance chart that looks like a double-bladed hockey stick, having grown better than 60 percent in the same period that the Dow Industrials lost so precipitously.
From May through December of last year — when the Dow was undergoing a steep decline — Riviera Tool’s stock merely reflected a slight decline. Then in December, the firm’s stock took the first of two big bounces: a jump from December through January and then another starting in March.
During that period, the company, which has 112 workers, reported $14 million in sales, 16 percent above the year before.
The third biggest performer among West Michigan stocks was that of Kalamazoo’s Stryker Corp., a developer and manufacturer of surgical and medical products, including orthopedic implants for everything from faces to hips, along with the requisite bone cement and osteogenic proteins.
The firm, which employs more than 14,000 workers, has a stock performance chart that mirrored the Dow last spring and summer.
But since then, Stryker has been a reverse image of the Dow, climbing steadily and fairly smoothly from the $45 to $50 range to that of $65 to $70.
Prices fell in January, but then recovered, growing steadily to date.
The firm, which also markets image-guided surgical systems and operates a segment that offers physical therapy and medical corporate administration, reports $3 billion in sales in the past year, nearly 16 percent more than in the preceding year.
A much smaller firm in a neighboring community, Manatron Inc., also outstripped the Dow with a chart that looks like a single-blade hockey stick.
Starting a year ago, Manatron’s stock showed an eight-month period of virtual flat-line growth — the handle of the stick — followed by a soaring rise that, at one point, nearly doubled the price of its stock.
Manatron, a Portage firm, designs, develops and markets Web-based software for the back-office operations of more than 1,600 county, city and township governments in 31 states and three Canadian provinces. It has outlets in four other Midwest states plus Florida and North Carolina.
Manatron employed 362 people as of the end of its fiscal year and reported more than $41 million in sales during the past year. The firm reports virtually no sales growth in the past 12 months.
Hastings Manufacturing Co., of Hastings, has a stock chart that looks a bit like Cedar Point’s Millennium Force roller coaster: very sharp growth last spring and early summer — from about $5 to about $15 a share — then a steep drop, and a more moderate roller coaster ride since then, with the price steadying at about $9.
The firm, which has a Canadian subsidiary, primarily produces after-market piston rings for autos and light trucks, though it also sells some product to OEMs.
Hastings also packages and sells auto mechanics’ specialty tools, as well as additives for engines, transmissions and cooling systems.
The company has nearly 400 workers and reported sales of nearly $35 million during the past year, a drop of 1 percent from the year before.
Closer to home, the stock of Mercantile Bank, of Wyoming, was at $20 this time last year and growing. The stock’s value then took a summer dip that persisted — with a few upticks — until mid-October.
The stock’s value has grown fairly steadily since then, taking a dip in mid-March, but recovering to its current $25.
The bank, located in the 5600 block of Byron Center Road, has reported $47 million in sales over the year, and indicates that is a 6.75 percent improvement over the previous year.
The price of stock for Holland’s Macatawa Bank also grew through the first of July and then took a deep tumble in mid-month.
Another steep shock came in September and October, but then the growth pattern resumed.
The company reports $57 million in sales during the year, which it says reflects a surge of 34 percent.
The stocks of two other area firms — Prab Inc., of Kalamazoo, and Perrigo Co., based in Allegan — emerged from the year with growth of 7.7 percent and 4.8 percent in value.
From that point on, the performance of local companies’ stock — from X-Rite in ninth place to Alternative Marketing Networks Inc. in 20th — has been more of a match for the Dow.