The winners and losers in SC stocks last year

Ray August is CEO for Benefitfocus Inc. The Daniel Island company’s stock jumped more than 70 percent in 2018. File/Staff/Brad Nettles

South Carolina stocks couldn’t sidestep the turbulence that rattled Wall Street last year, but they closed 2018 slightly ahead of broader market indicators.

While the widely followed S&P 500 shed more than 6 percent in value — its worst showing since the financial crisis a decade earlier — the 18 publicly traded companies based in the state gave up 3.7 percent. That’s based on the changing price of the shares over the course of a year that started out promising but was upended by unresolved trade tensions, rising interest rates and signs of a slowing global economy.

Put another way, an investor who bought 10 shares in each of those businesses on the first trading day last January would have paid roughly $7,240 for the entire lot. The value of the eclectic “Palmetto State Index” would have slipped to about $6,969 when the markets closed Dec. 31, not including dividends.

It was an equally grim year for Wall Street’s other yardsticks. The narrowly focused, blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 5.6 percent, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite slid nearly 4 percent. Europe’s major indexes also were in the red as of Monday.

Of the 18 South Carolina stocks that are bought and sold on a major exchange, just seven managed to ride into the new year with their heads above water.

Leading the pack by several lengths was Daniel Island-based Benefitfocus Inc., which makes software that workers use to sign up for and manage their health insurance and other job-related perks.

Its shares began their latest rally in November, after the Charleston firm reported 8 percent revenue growth and a smaller loss for the third quarter. While it surrendered some ground afterward, the stock notched a 71 percent increase when the books were closed for 2018.

Blackbaud Inc. moved into its new headquarters in mid-2018, but its stock would take a hit later in the year, after the software company cut its sales and profit forecast. File/Wade Spees/Staff

On the flip side, the biggest decliner is another big Daniel Island tech business that was among the biggest standouts in 2017: Blackbaud Inc., which sells software and services to nonprofit organizations.

That was then. Blackbaud’s once-lofty shares, which peaked north of $120 in July, tumbled by about one-third for the calendar year. Much of the damage came in October, when management cut the company’s 2018 sales and profit forecast.

Between the extremes, it was largely a mixed bag, ranging from a modest 1.4 dip at Pee Dee packaging giant Sonoco to a 25 percent jump at Upstate-based payday lender World Acceptance Corp.

Investors in all but one of South Carolina’s six publicly traded banks licked their wounds, a common theme for the lending industry in 2018. Columbia-based South State Corp. suffered the biggest hit, with its stock skidding about 31 percent. The sole gainer was also the smallest of the bunch: Charleston’s Bank of South Carolina Inc. added nearly 6 percent.

The hits and misses weren’t limited to stock prices in 2018. South Carolina lost another publicly traded company early last year, when electronic-parts maker Kemet Corp. moved its headquarters to south Florida from Simpsonville.

Another is being scratched from the list in 2019, courtesy of the sale of Cayce-based SCANA Corp. to Dominion Energy of Richmond, Va. The $13.4 billion deal was finalized last week.

The buyout offer announced last January did wonders for the stock of the South Carolina Electric & Gas parent, which was one of the worst performers of 2017, when the nearly fatal financial disaster known as the V.C. Summer nuclear project came to a head.

Shares of SCANA, which stopped trading Monday afternoon, climbed by about 23 percent over the past 12 months, better than most.

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