Just a year and a half ago, every Democrat running for president — and there were quite a few back then — campaigned against Wal-Mart. Democrats had found a “new rallying cry…denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health benefits.”

The Arkansas-based company — and member of the Yonder 40 stock index — has since gone through a corporate rebirth as an energy-saving, progressive, socially-concerned company. Last week, Wal-Mart's chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., gave what the New York Times described as a “lofty address” pledging a host of reforms and initiatives. Scott said the company planned to cut the energy used by its products by a quarter and to use its business to help other companies lower their cost of health care. Scott even said Wal-Mart is talking to auto companies about selling electric or hybrid cars, and then setting up windmills in store parking lots so customers can get a free refill while shopping.

“With the new commitments, Wal-Mart is trying to cement its reputation as a leader in areas where it was once known as a laggard,” the Times reported. “The initiatives are the most visible sign to date that Wal-Mart, which spent much of the past decade defending itself against criticism of its business practices, has gone on the offensive.”

Wal-Mart also reported some progress last week in providing its workers with health insurance. The company said that for the first time in its 46-year history more than half of its nearly 1.4 million US workers had company health insurance. Five years ago, 45.5 percent of Wal-Mart workers had company health insurance. Target provides health insurance to 40 percent of its workers.

Wal-Mart's stock price was up one percent last week along with the rest of the Yonder 40. The stock index designed to reflect the rural economy rose three percent last week, far outstripping the other major indices. The Dow rose less than a percent and the S&P 500 rose less than half a percent.

The Yonder 40 was led by retailers that had been beaten down over the past few months. Cato Corp rose 11 percent; Tractor Supply jumped 12 percent; Cabela's rose 11 percent. Energy stocks also jumped. Walter Industries, a coal producer, rose 25 percent and Peabody Energy went up nearly 14 percent.

There was also news affecting individual companies in the Yonder 40 in the past week.

“¢ Tyson Foods is having to change the advertising of its antibiotic-free chicken after some alleged the ads were misleading. Tyson will stop running its “Raised Without Antibiotics” advertisements, the company said in court filings.

“¢ ConAgra has abandoned plans to build an ethanol plant in Clovis, New Mexico, due to high cost of commodities and depressed ethanol prices. Local groups had also opposed the plant because of environmental concerns.

Here is how the entire Yonder 40 did in the week of January 20-25, 2008:

CompaniesTickerPrice January 18Price Change for WeekPercent Change for Week
Alico Inc.ALCO$44.48$5.0812.9%
Andersons Inc.ANDE$44.36$0.310.7%
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.BNI$81.80$4.876.3%
Berkshire HathawayBRKB$4,630.00$225.005.1%
Bassett FurnitureBSET$11.08$0.201.8%
Peabody Energy Corp.BTU$56.07$6.7213.6%
Cabela's Inc.CAB$13.52$1.3110.7%
ConAgra Foods Inc.CAG$21.06-$1.25-5.6%
Cato Corp. Cl ACTR$15.19$1.5011.0%
Citizens CommunicationsCZN$10.75$0.232.2%
Deere & Co.DE$82.88$6.488.5%
Dean Foods Co.DF$28.11$1.144.2%
DIRECTV GroupDTV$21.99$2.3211.8%
Family Dollar Stores Inc.FDO$18.23$0.543.1%
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.FLE$4.92$0.142.9%
FairPoint CommunicationsFRP$10.59-$2.63-19.9%
Gaylord Entertainment Co.GET$28.12$0.792.9%
Hormel FoodsHRL$37.32-$1.69-4.3%
International Speedway Corp.ISCA$39.29$0.080.2%
Lee EnterprisesLEE$11.04$0.363.4%
Mohawk Industries Inc.MHK$72.86$6.7210.2%
Monsanto Co.MON$108.13$2.382.3%
Mine Safety Appliances Co.MSA$43.33-$1.40-3.1%
Southwest BancorpOKSB$16.85-$0.10-0.6%
Plum Creek Timber REITPCL$41.64$2.055.2%
Penn Virginia Corp.PVA$41.65-$1.00-2.3%
Ralcorp HoldingsRAH$54.85-$2.00-3.5%
Regions Financial Corp.RF$22.79$3.6018.8%
Sturm Ruger & Co.RGR$8.20$0.101.2%
Smithfield FoodsSFD$24.45-$0.58-2.3%
Skywest Inc.SKYW$25.01$0.311.3%
Southern Co.SO$36.09-$1.65-4.4%
Stage Stores Inc.SSI$10.68$0.171.6%
Tractor Supply Co.TSCO$33.01$3.5211.9%
Tyson FoodsTSN$13.26-$0.06-0.5%
UST Inc.UST$52.33-$3.33-6.0%
Waddell & Reed Financial Inc.WDR$31.55$1.655.5%
Walter IndustriesWLT$40.83$8.0924.7%
Wal-Mart StoresWMT$48.09$0.511.1%
Cimarex EnergyXEC$39.15-$1.42-3.5%

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