With LSC Communications’ April Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the Publishers Weekly Stock Index is now down to only seven companies, and all but one had declines in their stock prices in the first six months of 2020, as Covid-19 threw the world economy into a tailspin. While some companies are starting to show signs of improving financial results, the uncertainty over the future course of the pandemic was the major factor in dropping the PWSI by 19.9% at the end of June compared to Dec. 31, 2019. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 10.6% in that same period.
Educational Development Corp. was the lone company on the PWSI whose stock price increased in the first half of 2020, with its shares jumping 55.6%. Though the publisher had small declines in sales and earnings in the fiscal year ended February 29 compared to fiscal 2019, as well as a financial scare in March, EDC had an exceptionally strong rebound in April and May, fueled by an increase in its number of home sales reps and the rising demand for children’s books. As a result, in its most recent financial update, the publisher said it expected to have a record first quarter, with sales estimated at $36.5 million–$38.5 million.
At the other end of the spectrum, LSC, the nation’s largest book printer, filed for bankruptcy on April 13—a move that had been widely expected following the cancellation of its planned merger with Quad in the second half of 2019. Investors showed little faith in LSC’s future, and its stock was trading at 37¢ per share at the beginning of 2020. Its shares are still trading on the over-the-counter market, where the share price is under 1¢. The printer has continued to operate while it works its way through the bankruptcy process.
The stocks of two companies on the index were trading for under $2 per share on June 30. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s share price was $1.81, down 71.6% since the beginning of the year, while Barnes & Noble Education’s share price fell 62.5% in the same period, dropping to $1.60.
B&NE shut nearly all of its college stores in the spring when most all colleges closed their campuses. The company’s share price would likely be even lower if not for speculation that it is preparing some sort of deal. It announced in late 2019 that it was conducting a “strategic review” to explore its future options, and last week Outerbridge Capital, one of B&N’s largest investors (with a 13.5% stake in the company), said it planned to nominate four of its own candidates to run for the B&NE board. B&N said it was “surprised” by the move and that it had been having discussions with Outerbridge about the future of the company for several months.
School closures led to a decline in sales and earnings in the first quarter of 2020 at HMH, and executives there expected a more severe hit in the second quarter, which ended June 30. In an early May call with investors discussing first-quarter results, HMH executives said its current assumptions are “that businesses will reopen for selling and that school districts will gradually resume purchasing during the second quarter of 2020, and most or all will become fully operational, either in-person or virtually, by the third quarter of 2020.”
At the end of June, it remained unclear how many schools will fully reopen to classroom teaching come fall. But HMH, like other educational publishers, said it has been expanding its digital programs and is ready to meet the growing demand for online courses.