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AHG tops WA list in 2012
The West Australian

Even after a terrible year on the market for the heartland of WA-listed companies, mining and exploration juniors, most of WA's blue-chip stocks ended the year in the black with a number offering stellar returns for investors.

Half the State's 30 biggest listed companies beat the market, offering total returns ahead of the 15.2 per cent gains on the S&P ASX-200 index.

With risk money largely sitting out of the market in the second half of the year, investors chased yield and performance. As with the broader market, the best local performers were a mix of dividend-paying defensive stocks and well-run miners.

Spurred by talk it may be a takeover target for its largest shareholder, Automotive Holdings Group topped the local chart, giving shareholders a 96.5 per cent total return (including dividend payments) at the close last Friday.

After a poor performance last year, AHG bounced back strongly this year. Gains in the second half came on the back of a 22.4 per cent profit boost in the 2011-12 financial year, and the surprise decision of founder Vern Wheatley to sell a 16.6 per cent stake to AHG rival AP Eagers, which has since built its holding to 18.6 per cent.

Internet services provider iiNet maintained its momentum, buoyed by the success of its acquisitions strategy. After paying 14¢ in dividends in 2012, iiNet gifted shareholders a 64.7 per cent total return. Australia's third-biggest ISP entered the S&P ASX-200 index this month and seems well set to capitalise on the roll-out of the national broadband network.

Despite what Navitas chief executive Rod Jones described as the toughest year in the company's history, the education provider shrugged off damage from the soaring Australian dollar for a 43.3 per cent total shareholder return. The Federal Government's decision to streamline granting of student visas should also put an end to three years of falls in international student enrolment in Australia.

The two best mining performers were Beadell Resources, which had a strong second-half run as it neared first production at its Brazilian gold mine, and WA gold producer Regis Resources.

The worst performers of the year included local iron ore players Aquila Resources and Atlas Iron, yet to fully recover from the August crash in iron ore prices.