Americans’ declining passion for smoking, salty snacks and community banks is evident in Business North Carolina’s annual list of the state’s largest public companies. Tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. and snack-maker Snyder’s-Lance Inc., two venerable companies with roots dating back more than a century, dropped from the rankings after selling out to larger rivals. Also departing are Capital Bank Financial Corp. and Park Sterling Corp., both Charlotte-based institutions swept up in the financial-services industry’s consolidation wave. Four smaller banks that were among the state’s 75 largest public companies in 2017 also handed over the keys to bigger peers.
In their place, the Triangle’s robust technology and life-sciences communities are spurring new public companies with promising research to treat cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions. Newcomer Aerie Pharmaceuticals Inc. moved its headquarters to Durham from California partly to be closer to Duke University, where initial research occurred for its glaucoma product Rhopressa. Aerie’s market value has more than tripled in the last two years to $2.9 billion because of expected demand for the once-a-day eyedrop, which launched in April.
Change, of course, is inevitable given the constant ebbs and tides of capital markets. Of North Carolina’s 92 biggest publicly traded companies in 1995, only 19 still trade as independent listings, according to Charlotte money-manager Jim Green, who has tracked the state’s stocks for more than 35 years. A few failed, though most were acquired by competitors or private-equity groups amid the shrinking competition evident in many industries. About half of the companies that remain listed are controlled by families, such as the Fines of Investors Title Co. in Chapel Hill, the Woltzes of Insteel Industries Inc. in Mount Airy and the Harrisons of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated in Charlotte.
Stock-related information in the charts reflects a continuing bull market that shows some signs of stalling. About 72% of the companies reported increases in total return in the year ending June 30, versus 88% in the previous year. Only three companies — Cree Inc., Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Inc. and Triangle Capital Corp. — have had negative returns over the last five years. On a happier note: Eighteen of the 50 companies more than doubled in value over the last five years.
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