The Publishers Weekly Stock Index, now down to seven companies, did something in the first half of 2021 it has rarely done: it outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The PWSI fell 4% in 2020 but had a strong rally in the first six months this year, jumping 37.1% between Dec. 31, 2020, and June 30, 2021. The Dow rose 12.7% in the period. In another unusual feat, the top-performing stock on the PWSI in 2020, Educational Development Corp., had the worst performance in the first half of 2021, while Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which finished at the bottom of the PWSI last year, had the biggest gain.
After a slow start following the outbreak of the pandemic, EDC’s stock price jumped 148% in 2020 as its sales and earnings shot up, fueled by growing demand for educational materials from parents as well as a significant jump in the number of home-based sales reps selling the EDC line. Though EDC reported higher estimated sales and earnings for the first quarter of fiscal 2021, investors appear to be having a hard time believing the company can continue to beat last year’s record-shattering performance, and EDC’s stock price fell 19.2% in the first half of the year.
HMH, on the other hand, had a tough 2020, with sales tumbling and losses rising. Beginning last October, however, its stock price gradually began to rise following its announcement that it was restructuring to become a “pure-play technology learning company”—a move that led to the elimination of 525 jobs and the sale of its trade division to HarperCollins. HMH used $337 million of the proceeds from the sale to pay down debt in mid-June. The company also reported improved first-quarter financial results, and its stock price ended the first half of the year up 231.5% from December 31.
Barnes & Noble Education’s stock price also had a good first half of 2021, benefitting in part from a belief among investors that its results would improve as more college stores reopened and more students began to use the company’s digital education tools. B&NE’s financial report for the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended May 1, however, appeared to shake investors. While the fourth quarter financials were better than those for the full year, B&NE reported that it did not believe profit would return to pre-Covid levels until fiscal 2023. As a result, its stock price, which had been at $8.67 per share before the earnings announcement, plunged 16.8%, closing at $7.21 on June 30.
Scholastic and John Wiley both saw solid increases in their stock prices, following a decline in 2020. Scholastic’s share price was hurt in 2020 by the widespread closure of school book fairs and book clubs. Both businesses struggled in the quarter ended February 28, but Scholastic investors seem to concur with a prediction by the publisher that the combination of schools reopening in fall and lots of federal stimulus money would mean a much better fiscal 2022, and its stock price ended the first six months of 2021 up 51.5%.