The public companies with the biggest stock market gains (and losses) during the pandemic

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Valuations for many of the city’s public companies are at record highs, even as well-established firms have struggled to adapt to the dizzying disruptions of Covid-19.

Using share price data from S&P Global Market Intelligence from Feb. 28, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021—a period when the S&P 500 rose by a remarkable 62%—Crain’s assembled a list of the pandemic’s 10 biggest winners and losers.

We think many of the results will surprise you.

Who ever imagined that a failed oil fracker and investor in Archie comics would emerge as a big winner? And with everyone gazing at screens so much, why is a leading wireless carrier having a rough go of it?

The winners

1. Bit Digital: 1421% gain

We admit that we hadn’t heard of this company, a bitcoin miner headquartered on Irving Place that launched in February 2020. After a strong first half of 2021, it stumbled in the third quarter when China banned bitcoin mining and posted a $20 million net loss on $10 million in revenue. The company said it has found new locations to do its work and has a market value of $425 million, which, for those scoring at home, is equal to about 9,200 bitcoin.

2. IDT Corp.: 485%

No cat ever had as many lives as this Newark, New Jersey-based company, founded in 1990 by Howard Jonas, who attacked Ma Bell’s monopoly with his “1-800-SCREW-AT&T” marketing campaign. IDT got into credit-card collections and oil fracking. It has owned an animation studio that made episodes of “The Simpsons” and a conservative talk-radio network called Liberty. It has held stakes in Archie Comics Entertainment and the canned food company Vitarroz. Today IDT describes itself as a global provider of communications and payment services.

3. Datadog: 295%

Cloud computing—basically, renting another company’s servers—is one of the hottest businesses in tech and Datadog, with a nearly $50 billion market capitalization, is the most successful startup to emerge from New York’s venture-capital scene. Competitor MongoDB, up 247% since the pandemic started, pays workers a higher average wage than Goldman Sachs or the Blackstone Group.

4. Etsy: 278%

Millions turned to this marketplace when masks became the world’s most wanted item. After a rocky start as a public company, the Brooklyn company has carved out a lucrative niche by selling handmade merchandise. It has a $25 billion market capitalization.

5. Carver Bancorp: 267%

Carver is one of the pandemic’s stranger and more heartening stories. The long-dormant stock of New York’s last Black bank became a Reddit favorite and the institution took advantage of that by raising millions in new capital to serve small businesses, churches and other borrowers shunned by larger banks. Signature Bank, up 158%, is one of the city’s largest lenders to small businesses and commercial landlords and benefited from New York’s recovery. Ivanka Trump served on its board many years ago.

6. Atlas Air Worldwide: 252%

Airline passenger traffic is way down, but October cargo volume at John F.  Kennedy International Airport was 23% higher than two years ago, according to Port Authority data. This freight transport specialist has ridden the tailwind.

7. Movado Group: 185%

One of life’s mysteries is why watches remain popular, even though it’s been a long time since anyone needed one to tell time. One explanation is that few New Yorkers have a big house or fancy car to show off, but wrapping a fancy timepiece around your wrist is one way to convey to everybody you’re an important somebody.

8. KKR: 161%

Most of Wall Street had a fantastic 2021, thanks to the federal government’s taking emergency measures to rescue the economy. None benefited quite so much as the original barbarian at the gate, which has evolved into a massive asset manager. Legendary co-CEOs Henry Kravis and George Roberts announced their retirements.

9. Macy’s: 98%

It looked as if the pandemic would be the final nail in the coffin, but management took painful steps to get the ailing retailer into fighting shape, closing stores and letting go of thousands of employees. Now it’s weighing whether to spin off some or all of its successful digital marketplace. This warhorse has room to run.

10. Pfizer: 77%

German partner BioNTech is the inventor, but everyone calls it the Pfizer vaccine and that has turned a big, powerful company into one of the most influential and revered on earth. Omicron boosters could generate up to $50 billion in additional revenue for Pfizer, according to Morgan Stanley—more than the company’s entire sales in 2020. Its new oral antiviral treatment, Paxlovid, could generate an additional $26 billion.

The losers

1. Staffing 360 Solutions: -78%

Its business model is acquiring and running employment agencies in the U.S. and the U.K. Although the company returned to profitability last year as people returned to work, revenue continued to edge down and most investors have abandoned ship. In June the company did a 1-for-6 reverse split to lift its sagging stock price, but the shares still trade for less than a dollar each.

2. Altice USA: -37%

Netflix and Apple are, of course, pandemic winners, but cord-cutting has hurt this telecommunications company that acquired Cablevision in 2016 for about $10 billion. Its market value today is just $8 billion.

3. Madison Square Garden Sports Corp.: -35%

The world’s famous arena was dark for a year and although the improved Knicks and Rangers are playing again before fans, investors seem doubtful business will fully recover. It probably didn’t help that the omicron surge caused Phish’s end-of-year concerts to be postponed.

4. Revlon: -35%

The durable consumer brand, owned by billionaire Ron Perelman for more than 35 years, has been a dud for public investors for a long time because of its hefty debt burden. Some cosmetics companies were caught off-guard when shoppers started buying lipstick less often at drug stores and more often online.

5. Paramount Group: -31%

This landlord owns several prime office towers in Midtown and San Francisco that have been mostly empty for nearly two years. Finding new tenants to fill vacancies is difficult, and the company defied shareholders last year by reseating a director who had been voted off the board. Paramount’s misery has plenty of company: Empire State Realty Trust is down 23%, Vornado Realty Trust 22% and SL Green 10%

6. Ark Restaurants: -18%

The owner of the Bryant Park Grill has problems mirroring those of all full-service restaurants, where headcount remains down 40% in the city. The situation is better for fast-food purveyors. Nathan’s Famous was down only 2%.

7. JetBlue Airways: -10%

In October passenger traffic at LaGuardia Airport was 32% lower than two year ago, a decline of 853,000 travelers, according to data from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That says it all.

8. Citigroup: -5%

CEO Jane Fraser took the helm last year, vowing to make changes. She quickly unveiled plans to exit 13 markets overseas but so far has left only three. She has won over at least one of the bank’s longtime critics.

9. Verizon Communications: -4%

We’re all using our smartphones constantly, but rates for data are coming down and there’s lots of customer churn. The telecom giant’s $143 billion long-term debt load grew three times faster than revenue in the nine months ending Sept. 30.

10. Medallion Financial: -2%

Historically the city’s leading taxi-medallion lender, this firm has diversified, but last month the Securities and Exchange Commission accused its president, Andrew Murstein, of secretly paying bloggers to publish nice things about the company. A dissident shareholder is demanding Murstein and his father, CEO Alvin Murstein, step off the board and be suspended from their positions.