2022 has been a groundbreaking year for Lehigh Valley businesses, as Air Products & Chemicals has moved to the forefront of the green energy revolution and PPL Corp. embraced a zero-net emissions future.
Shift4 Payments Inc. went global and OraSure Technologies Inc. went through a year of change.
Fulton Financial Corp. won customers through an acquisition and established plans to return cash to shareholders.
Air Products was the big story, locally and internationally. The Upper Macungie Township-based company has planned to spend billions in Texas, Canada and elsewhere to strengthen its grip on what CEO Seifi Ghasemi claims is a hydrogen-based economy.
“Hydrogen will be the sustainable fuel of the future,” Ghasemi said in a call with Wall Street analysts in November.
Ghasemi, who is also chairman and president of the company, said Air Products was on a mission to make money and make the earth better by reducing the use of fossil fuels. Carbon emissions are linked to global warming.
“It’s very much in line with our higher purpose of doing something good for humanity,” he said on a conference call earlier this month.
Ghasemi has promoted hydrogen, especially “green hydrogen”, as a substitute for fossil fuels in heavy industry and transportation. It is considered “green” when made from renewable energy, such as solar energy, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The process generates no emissions.
Air Products’ big initiative has the support of the federal government. The Cut Inflation Act 2022 contains subsidies for green energy. Ghasemi is also advocating for a carbon tax, which would also boost green alternatives.
While the company made big moves, shares of Air Products (APD on the NYSE) gained 1.3% on the year to end at $308.26. Not a huge gain, but much better than the 8.8% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had its worst year since 2008. Air Products also paid $6.48 per share in dividends in 2022.
PPL has also looked green in 2022. The utility aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and it took a big step in December towards that goal.
The Allentown-based utility said it would replace 1,500 megawatts of coal-fired power generation in Kentucky by 2028, at a cost of about $1.2 billion. Instead of coal, a source of greenhouse gases, PPL will burn natural gas, add solar power and battery storage capacity, and add energy efficiency programs.
PPL CEO and President Vincent Sorgi said the Kentucky moves show the company can provide power to its customers and meet its environmental goals.
“This is about fulfilling our mission to provide safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable energy to our customers,” he said in a statement on Dec. 15. PPL serves approximately 3.5 million customers.
PPL shares (PPL on the New York Stock Exchange) ended 2022 at $29.22, down 2.8% from $30.06 at the end of last year. The company paid 87.5 cents of dividends per share in 2022, meaning shareholders were roughly even for the year based on total return.
Shift4 Payments Inc.
Shift4 Payments Inc. (FOUR on the NYSE) made big strides in 2022. The Lehigh County-based payment processing company added several stadiums to its roster of clients, including the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia .
Jared Isaacman founded what is now Shift4 in the basement of his family home in New Jersey in 1999. He was 16 years old. Its creation is now valued at more than $4 billion.
Lehigh Valley residents may not be familiar with the fintech company, but they have used its services. Shift4 processes payments for restaurants and hotels nationwide. Clients include Burger King, Outback Steakhouse and many more.
Shift4 took the big step in 2022 by expanding into Europe. It will take a big step forward locally in 2023, when it moves its headquarters from Hanover Township to space in the Dun & Bradstreet building in Center Valley. Shift4 employs approximately 600 people in total in the Lehigh Valley.
As the company has made progress, Chief Executive Isaacman told an investor conference in December that he was “incredibly frustrated” that Shift4 stock was lagging. He even suggested that the company could go private, buy out shareholders and then operate without all the reporting requirements imposed on public companies.
Operating as a public company means providing information to shareholders and, as Chairman Taylor Lauber pointed out, that same information is available to competitors.
Shares started 2022 at $57.93. The year-end closing price, despite many new customers and good earnings news, was $55.93.
Even with the 3.5% decline in the stock price in 2022, Isaacman is doing well. Forbes listed his net worth as of December 31 at $1.8 billion, making him the 1,629th richest person in the world.
Number 1 is Bernard Arnault of France with $179.2 billion. His LVMH luxury empire includes brands such as Louis Vuitton, Sephora and Tiffany. Elon Musk fell to No. 2. The Tesla and Twitter frontman is worth an estimated $146.5 billion, Forbes said.
OraSure Technologies, the Bethlehem-based medical device company that was founded in 1988 as SolarCare, opened its “factory of the future” in Bethlehem Township in October, with a guest list of local, state officials and federal.
The opening was a bright spot in a tumultuous year for OraSure, which makes diagnostic tests and sample collection kits. OraSure shares (OSUR on NASDAQ) started 2022 at $8.69 and ended at $4.82, down 45%.
Between the final market shutdowns of 2021 and 2022, OraSure had three managing directors and engaged in an unsuccessful search for “strategic alternatives”.
Later in the year things changed. The company achieved its goal of generating positive operating cash flow in the third quarter, ahead of its forecast, and new chief executive Carrie Eglinton Manner launched OraSure on a new path focused on efficiency and what it calls for the future of diagnosis.
“We have begun to lay the foundations for our future strategy and position the business to reset our financial base,” Eglinton Manner said in November, after the company reported third-quarter earnings that more than doubled from to the previous year.
OraSure products include test kits for HIV and Covid-19.
Eglinton Manner said the future of diagnostics and OraSure is to “serve patients where they are”, at home. OraSure’s InteliSwab Covid-19 test does just that. It also accounted for the bulk of the company’s third-quarter earnings, released in November.
Fulton Financial Corp.
Fulton Financial Corp., the parent company of Fulton Bank, expanded in 2022 with the acquisition of Prudential Bank for $142 million. This moves the Lancaster-based bank into the Philadelphia market.
Fulton also announced a buyback of up to $100 million of shares in 2023 and a special dividend of 6 cents that was paid in December. Companies return money to shareholders with buyouts and dividends. Buybacks also reduce the number of shares outstanding, which helps increase earnings per share.
Shares of Fulton (FULT on NASDAQ) ended 2022 at $16.83, down 1% on the year. With the one-time dividend of 6 cents and the regular quarterly dividends of 15 cents, the company paid 66 cents per share in 2022, so on a total return basis, shareholders earned 49 cents per share.
Finally among listed companies, Vinco Ventures (ticker BBIG on NASDAQ) fell from $1.62 at the end of 2021 to 46 cents on Friday. The company was once based in Bethlehem, but not anymore. He no longer has a seat and has moved away.
In 2021, Vinco shares surged above $10. Since then, the company, which describes itself as “focused on the development of digital media and content technologies”, has seen its share price fall.
Over the past year, Vinco has changed direction, resolved litigation and fallen behind in filing reports for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.