It paid to be in the education business in 2008. That's the conclusion that can be drawn for the stock results last year of Arizona-related companies.
Apollo Group, the operator of the University of Phoenix, was the only major Arizona company to show a gain in a generally dreadful year that saw most Arizona stocks perform even worse than the overall indices.
For the year, the Dow Jones Industrials closed Wednesday with a 34 percent loss, even with a rally this week. It was the worst yearly performance for the Dow since 1931.
Other indices fared even worse. The NASDAQ average was down 40 percent and the S&P 500 dropped 39 percent for the year.
But Apollo Group managed to buck the trend. It closed at 76.62 Wednesday, 9 percent higher than its 2007 closing of 70.15. However, Apollo Group was wildly erratic during the year, sinking as low as 37.92 in April before making a steady comeback.
Analysts said education companies usually do well in weak economies as people out of work or needing to retrain go back to school to brush up their skills.
Apollo operates 200 University of Phoenix campuses and other learning centers nationwide and is the largest publicly traded firm in the sector.
Also performing relatively well was PF Chang's China Bistro. The restaurant chain fell only 9 percent for the year.
The worst-performing Arizona stock was Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group, an operator of commuter airlines that encountered heavy turbulence including losses from its Chinese operations, an effort by Delta Airlines to drop its partnership and a lawsuit over its Hawaii inter-island service.
Also tumbling was Freeport McMoRan, formerly Phelps Dodge, which suffered from the sharp drop in world copper prices as the recession went global.
But stocks took a break from the gloom and doom Wednesday as the Dow Jones industrial rose 108 points for the day to finish the year at 8,776.
Investors took some comfort from the Labor Department's report of a sharp drop in weekly unemployment claims. But many traders were out of the market, on vacation or having closed their books for the year.
Analysts said many investors were looking forward to the start of 2009. Still, there are many unknowns about the economy that could make Wall Street's recovery from a terrible 2008 a difficult one. "The tone is less onerous for stocks," said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist, Weeden & Co. in Greenwich, Conn. He said lighter volume and relief that the year is over likely aided the market's advance Wednesday.
The Dow is down 38 percent from its record close of 14,165.53 in October 2007 while the tech-heavy Nasdaq index is off 44.8 percent from its record in that same month.