Vist Financial, UniTek are the best and worst local stocks in 2012

Posted: July 07, 2012

With the first half of 2012 in the can (presumably available to be kicked down the road), let's pause to review which local stocks roared and which got floored.

To start, consider the Inquirer/Bloomberg Philadelphia Index, which rose 7.7 percent between Dec. 31 and June 29. That was better than the Dow Jones industrial average (up 5.4 percent), but not quite as good as the broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index (up 8.3 percent.)

At 141 members, the local index continues to shrink. There were 176 companies in the index last July and 189 in July 2010. Much of that decline has been due to the acquisition of local companies that make up the index.

In fact, acquisition offers were responsible for two companies' winding up among the biggest gainers in terms of stock price.

Vist Financial Corp., which is based in Wyomissing, Berks County, saw its shares leap 92 percent from $6.05 as of Dec. 31 to $11.62 on June 30. Vist and its 22 branches are being acquired by Tompkins Financial Corp., an Ithaca, N.Y., bank holding company, in a stock transaction valued at $12.50 per share. That transaction is expected to close during the third quarter.

Shares of eResearchTechnology Inc., a Center City provider of services and devices to collect, analyze, and report on clinical data, rose 70 percent from $4.69 to $7.99. In April, it agreed to be acquired by San Francisco-based Genstar Capital L.L.C. for $8 per share, or about $400 million. The sale closed July 3.

And in something of a surprise, Mount Laurel-based PHH Corp. saw its shares rise 63 percent from $10.70 at the end of December to $17.48 on June 30. PHH lost $127 million in 2011 and replaced CEO Jerome Selitto in early January with Glen A. Messina, who'd been chief operating officer.

Most of PHH's net revenues are generated by its commercial fleet management services business, but its mortgage production unit is its most profitable business. While the auto and housing businesses have been climbing out of deep holes since the recession, both have shown signs of strength this year.

Other companies were not so lucky. Thirty-six local companies that started 2012 with a stock price above $3 per share watched their market capitalizations fall during the first six months. Construction was the weak link for two of them.

The biggest tumble was experienced by UniTek Global Services Inc., a Blue Bell-based provider of outsourced infrastructure services to wired and wireless communications businesses. Its shares tumbled 45 percent from $4.53 to $2.51. On Jan. 10, C. Scott Hisey resigned as CEO and Peter Giacalone resigned as executive chairman and president.

Marlton-based Hill International Inc. also depends on the construction sector as a provider of project management and construction claims consulting services globally. Hill lost 38 percent of its value during the first half of 2012 as its shares slipped from $4.53 to $2.51.

Shares of Central European Distribution Corp., which has headquarters in Mount Laurel but generates nearly all of its revenue from its vodka-production operations in Europe, sank 35 percent from $4.375 to $2.86.

Following disclosure in April of "management challenges" in its Russian alcohol business and the establishment of a strategic alliance with a Russian company, Central European Distribution said in June that all of its financial statements since January 2010 "should no longer be relied upon."

Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.phillyinc.biz.

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