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Stocks that went up

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

STATEWIDE —You know times are hard when you can count on one hand the public companies that gained over the past year. The overwhelming majority of the public companies with major presences in Oregon have seen their stock prices plummet, but five stalwarts  —  including, believe it or not, two banks — defied the downturn.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the largest home mortgage holder in Oregon and a major employer here, slid 25% between January and July of 2008, but recovered powerfully while snapping up former rivals on the cheap, gaining 2% over the past year.

Cincinnati-based Kroger, parent company of the Oregon mega-store powerhouse Fred Meyer, capitalized on the trend to stock up on the basics in bulk and boosted its stock price 5% in the process.

Wilsonville-based FLIR Systems continued to pull in fat military contracts for its infrared cameras, pulling in more than a billion dollars in revenue for the first time in 2008. Its stock has fallen from its summer peak of over $43 per share, but even with that drop it still increased 4% over a year ago.  

Northwest Pipe, a longtime Portland fixture that recently relocated across the river to Vancouver, fared even better amid the downturn, building up a backlog of orders for water transmission systems. Its stock price soared to an all-time high of $63 in September, and even after a steep drop-off in October it still rose 25% over the past year.

The only company to beat that performance was Pacific Continental Bank, a Eugene-based bank that resisted the temptation to chase the speculators into California, Bend, and other boom-and-then-bust towns. The bank also avoided the subprime and stated-income "liar loans" that brought down other banks, most notably Seattle-based Washington Mutual, the largest bank failure in U.S. history.

"We did a very good job of sticking to our principles and not getting into markets that were risky," says Pacific Continental vice president Maecey Castle.

The strategy paid off. Pacific Continental's percentage of nonperforming assets is about one fifth of the industry average and its stock price recovered from a low of $10.42 Jan 4, 2008, to $14.90 a year later, a 44% rise. Not a bad showing over a year when the typical stock moved 35% in the opposite direction.               


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