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Amid December stock swoon, trio leads SW Connecticut

January 2, 2019

With equities markets exiting December in a half-nelson of investor fears, uncertainties and doubts, it was the Stamford company iconic for its pro wrestling shows that led all southwestern Connecticut for stock gains in 2018.

Shares of WWE closed out 2018 with a nearly 150 percent gain, easily eclipsing the 66 percent increase for the cancer drug developer Loxo Oncology to lead all companies with headquarters in the region or otherwise significant operations otherwise.

Speaking to investment analysts in late October, CEO Vince McMahon highlighted the ratings of WWE’s TV programs and online programming via its subscriber network, while promising to reinvigorate ticket sales to its arena shows.

“From a live-event standpoint, that is and always has been a parameter as to how well we’re doing,” McMahon said on an October conference call. “We know what’s wrong with our live events. ... I don’t want to call it an antiquated presentation, but we know how to fix things. If something’s wrong and you don’t know how to fix it, you’re in trouble. We know how to fix that and we’re reimagining those live events. Very, very shortly, you will see a pretty big turnaround.”

After topping southwestern Connecticut gainers with a 160-percent increase last year, Loxo rewarded investors by securing Food & Drug Administration approval and national attention in November for its debut drug designed to slow cancer by blocking genes that help cells grow. Since its initial public offering of stock at $13 in August 2014, Loxo shares traded Wednesday at $138.

The Ridgefield-based restaurant and market distributor Chef’s Warehouse was the only other local company to see shares rise by at least half, with its CEO citing continued consumer confidence that has spurred people to splurge more on food whether eating in or dining out, with a positive impact on its business.

“Party season is coming, so I think people are spending money,” said Chef’s Warehouse CEO Chris Pappas, during a November conference call. “It’s an affordable luxury — it’s not like you have to go get a mortgage. We have not seen anything to tell us that anything is changing, but the positive outlook that we’ve had.”

About a third of some 65 publicly traded companies tracked by Hearst Connecticut Media saw their stock prices appreciate in 2018, the majority of that group by single-digit percentages. Across markets, stocks had their worst year in a decade, with the S&P 500 down 6.2 percent — despite hitting a record high only in September — and the Nasdaq off 4 percent.

Of decliners in southwestern Connecticut, 34 saw their stocks fall by double-digit margins, with the Stamford LED maker Revolution Lighting Technologies suffering a nearly 90 percent swoon to close out the year at 40 cents, with its founder and CEO Bob LaPenta now proposing to take the company private.

Others to see their shares drop by at least half included General Electric, which has its remaining GE Capital operations based in Norwalk; Tronox and Cenveo in Stamford, the latter going private earlier in the year after a bankruptcy proceeding; FuelCell Energy in Danbury; Nanoviricides in Shelton; and Frontier Communications in Norwalk.

Includes prior reporting by Paul Schott.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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