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Roaring ’20s vs. now: GE, GM, Coca-Cola, U.S. Steel and Sears

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It’s curtains for year two of a yet-to-be-named decade, but some industry stalwarts that defined the 1920s — or Roaring ’20s — are still making waves today after a century of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. 

Here’s a look at how five titans were performing then and now. 

General Electric — Then & Now

From lightbulbs to power plants, this Dow Jones Industrial Average original has come a long way since going public at the turn of the century. The titan of electricity was already a well-established company by the 1920s — still holding the record for the longest running stock on the Dow, from 1896 to 2018. General Electric is also the only remaining company of the original Dow 12

At the start of the 1920s’ bull market, GE’s shares were trading at $112, when adjusted for splits is around $0.47 per share. The company later reported net income of $28.2 million for the 1921 fiscal year. 

By the 1920s, GE was well past it’s humble beginnings as a lightbulb manufacturer, the company was expanding into the latest technology of the time-radio. Not content with simply manufacturing radios, GE would start its own radio station in 1922. For a few years, residents of Schenectady, N.Y. could turn their dials to WGY, General Electric’s first — and last — radio station. 

GE’s radio ambitions would eventually spawn the Radio Corporation of America, or RCA — one of the great speculative stocks of the 1920s. By 1929, America’s radio equipment spending reached $840 million.

So where is GE today? While it may no longer be listed on the Dow, GE is still traded on the New York Stock Exchange. However, that may soon be changing as the company announced this year it plans to split into three different companies, focusing on aviation, health care, and energy. As of late December 2021, GE stock was trading around $94 per share. In Q3 2021 GE reported a total $18.4 billion dollars in revenue.

General Motors — Then & Now

The company credited with putting the “roaring” in the 1920s, General Motors was the leading automobile manufacturer trading on the New York Stock Exchange in the 20s. A boom decade for automobiles, in 1921 there were 9.2 million cars registered in the U.S. by 1929 that number had grown to 23.1 million automobiles. With Ford not going public until the 1950s, the responsibility fell to General Motors to reflect that growth in the market.

In 1921, GM was trading around $9.63 per share. By 1925 that figure grew to just over $22 per share and kept rising — peaking at $111 in 1929. By the end of the bull market, GM was worth $3.9 billion. In 1921, GM reported total car sales amounted to 215,000. By 1929 it was selling 1.9 million automobiles annually — an increase of 765% in less than a decade.

Presently, despite a chip shortage causing supply issues, GM had a pretty good 2021 — topping earnings estimates for Q3 with total revenue of $26 billion. GM stock is closing out 2021 at around $58 a piece. Of course GM is still making cars. But unlike the 1920’s, they are eyeballing the electric vehicle (EV) industry. General Motors announced in early December it is opening its third U.S.-based factory focused on manufacturing EV batteries in Michigan.

U.S. Steel — Then & Now

A company so large it used to simply be known as “The Corporation,” U.S. Steel was the world’s first vertically integrated steel manufacturer. The brainchild of J.P. Morgan in 1901, the company was the result of a merger of the largest steel manufacturers of the day. After its creation, U.S. Steel quickly became the largest corporation in the world — producing two-thirds of all steel made in the United States. If that wasn’t enough, U.S. Steel made history in the 1920s as the first company to ever cross the billion dollar threshold. 

By the end of 1922, U.S. Steel shares were trading around $2.84 per share. That same year, The Corporation brought in gross revenue of more than $1.92 billion. That is up from $986 million it brought in just a year prior in 1921. By December 1922, U.S. Steel’s total assets were worth more than $2 billion dollars.

Today, U.S. Steel is still trading on the New York Stock Exchange with its stock trading around $23 per share at the end of December. The company recently posted revenue of 5.69 billion in Q3 2021, and is sitting on a market cap of $6.4 billion. 

Coca-Cola — Then & Now

Invented in the 1880s and sold as a temperance drink and patent medicine, Coca-Cola would become the company we now know as the Coca-Cola Corporation seven years later in 1892. Ads for the cocaine-laden drink billed it as a “Intellectual beverage containing a valuable brain tonic, and a cure for all nervous affection.” 

By the 1920s, Coca-Cola had ditched the Schedule II narcotic for caffeine and became the well-established soft drink brand we all know and love. To kick off the decade, Coca-Cola moved into its new headquarters where it remains today on North Avenue in Atlanta. In 1925, Coca-Cola decided to double down on the “secret” part of its secret recipe, passing a resolution to place the secret Coca-Cola formula in a bank vault in Atlanta.

Before the bull market took off, Coca-Cola shares were sitting at $19 a piece in 1921. Adjusted for splits over time, that is reduced to $0.23. That made for a 1921 market cap of just under $10 million, yet the company saw earnings of more than $5 million in 1922. Coca-Cola would end the 1920s’ bull market trading at $140 dollars per share. 

Coca-Cola is still a giant in the soft-drink industry, and its stock is trading around $59 per share. In 2020, Coca-Cola reported total revenue of $33 billion — down about 9% compared to 2017, mostly due to some refranchising and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the stock has managed to recover over 60% from its March 2020 low.

Sears — Then & Now

Ushering in the modern era of American consumerism, Sears and Roebuck got its start in the 19th century as a mail-order firm. By the early 20th century, Sears was a household name, dominating the rural retail market with its huge catalog — selling everything from clothes and jewelry to entire homes. In the mid-1920s, Sears was making inroads in urban areas. Not content to stick with catalogs, Sears opened its first department store in Chicago in 1925.

At the close of 1922, Sears & Roebuck was reporting an annual revenue of more than $182 million, which broke down to around $4.88 per share. Sears reported total assets for the year at over $152 million, which was actually a drop compared to 1921 which the company at the time attributed to smaller inventories and a sharp reduction in accounts receivable.

Most of us know what has since become of Sears. The franchise’s ownership company declared bankruptcy three years ago. Sears survived the filing but its slow decline has continued along with its sister company K-Mart. As of now there are now only 21 Sears stores open in the U.S.

Jared Blikre is an anchor and reporter focused on the markets on Yahoo Finance Live. Follow him @SPYJared. Devan Burris is a producer for Yahoo Finance Live.

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