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Basch Report
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 2, 202005:10 AM EST

Most Jacksonville stocks finish the year higher

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Fund that targeted Rayonier AM closing; Staffing firm GEE Group reports loss.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Last year was a big one for the stock market, with the S&P 500 index up 29% for 2019 through Dec. 27 and the Dow Jones industrial average up 23%.

Among Jacksonville stocks, 14 of the 20 public companies that were headquartered in Northeast Florida at the beginning of 2019 were higher for the year.

Five companies beat the S&P 500, led by Fidelity National Financial Inc. and a company spun off from Fidelity, Black Knight Inc. Both were up 43%.

Fidelity National Information Services Inc. (FIS), another company spun off from Fidelity National Financial, also beat the national indexes with a 36% gain.

FIS rose after its big acquisition of Worldpay Inc., and the two other stocks to beat the indexes also were involved with significant merger deals last year.

Advanced Disposal Services Inc. rose 37% after competitor Waste Management Inc. agreed to buy the Ponte Vedra-based company.

That deal is pending heading into 2020.

Ameris Bancorp rose 35% after growing with the acquisition of Atlanta-based Fidelity Southern Corp.

Ameris moved its executive offices from Jacksonville to Atlanta after the merger.

Fund that targeted Rayonier AM closing

Rayonier Advanced Materials Inc. was the worst-performing stock among Jacksonville-based public companies last year, dropping 65% through last weekend.

That followed a 47% drop for Rayonier AM in 2018, as the maker of cellulose specialty products has been hurt by price declines in its markets.

The poor performance likely contributed to the demise of an activist hedge fund.

Marcato Capital Management L.P. is closing “as assets have shriveled after two years of poor returns,” Reuters news service reported last week, citing unnamed sources.

One of its assets was Rayonier AM. Marcato, which was known for waging proxy fights to get directors elected to public company boards, began buying shares of Rayonier AM in late 2017.

Although the firm never publicly stated its intentions, Rayonier AM avoided a fight by agreeing to put a Marcato representative on its board in February 2018.

Marcato partner Matthew Hepler joined the board in May 2018 but resigned a year later, without any comment from Marcato or Rayonier AM.

Marcato last spring controlled about 2.35 million Rayonier AM shares, or 4.7% of outstanding shares. The stake was reduced to 1.3 million shares in August, according to Marcato’s quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and its last filing in November showed no Rayonier AM shares.

Reuters said Marcato has been selling assets to raise cash to meet requests for redemptions from investors.

Staffing firm GEE Group reports loss

Jacksonville-based staffing company GEE Group Inc. last week reported a net loss of $17.8 million, or $1.50 a share, for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Revenue fell 8% to $151.7 million.

The company said in a news release the lower revenue resulted from a “reduction in the number of marginally performing and underperforming full time employees in sales, recruitment and account management coupled with certain office consolidations.”

CEO Derek Dewan said in the release GEE Group is continuing a plan to streamline operations and increase productivity.

“We will continue to build on the progress made in fiscal 2019 and we expect to obtain some additional operational efficiencies and economies of scale in fiscal 2020. The cost savings expected, coupled with our anticipated revenue gains, will help GEE significantly improve its bottom line in fiscal 2020,” he said.

GEE Group also will pursue “strategic” merger and acquisition opportunities, he said.

Dewan said demand for the company’s staffing services is high.

“We anticipate that the strong employment environment experienced in the last several years will continue as we enter 2020,” he said.

“The widespread use of contingent labor, coupled with continued requirements for full time hires, will continue to benefit the staffing industry and GEE. Macroeconomic conditions are anticipated to be conducive to the continued growth and profitability of our sector and our company.”

Michaels again names a new CEO

The Michaels Companies Inc. shook up its top management Dec. 27, announcing a new CEO for the second time in less than a year.

The Texas-based arts and crafts retailer, which has a distribution center in Jacksonville, said former Walmart executive Ashley Buchanan will become CEO on April 1.

Buchanan will succeed Mark Cosby, who was brought in as interim CEO in February and became the permanent chief executive in October.

Michaels also said Chief Financial Officer Denise Paulonis is leaving at the end of January.

Like other brick-and-mortar retailers, Michaels has been struggling to grow sales. Comparable-store sales (sales at stores open for more than one year) fell 1.7% in the first three quarters of fiscal 2019 and it projects full-year comparable-store sales to be down 2%.

The company’s stock rose $1.98 to $8 Friday after the announcement.

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