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Area business grow increasingly bullish but still hold off on hiring

Many large Tampa Bay companies are enjoying strong performances and increasingly see improving earnings ahead. It's a great trend for the area's weary economy even if it does not yet translate to fresh job opportunities.

The local business outlook mirrors a Bloomberg analysis that finds more U.S. executives than ever are boosting earnings forecasts compared with those lowering them.

Companies are raising the outlook for U.S. profits at the same time the Federal Reserve is trying to prevent deflation and reduce unemployment by purchasing an additional $600 billion in Treasuries. Bloomberg data show the last time executives were this optimistic, stocks climbed 39 percent over the next 3 1/2 years.

Take any stock market scenario with plenty of skepticism. Still, the market has had a great run since September. And it makes sense to assume that before Tampa Bay companies start hiring again, they must regain their confidence with a steady string of strong profits and rising sales.

Here's a quick tour through some major area businesses, ranked by recent bullishness:

1. Clearwater computer parts distributor Tech Data Corp., Tampa Bay's largest publicly traded company and No. 109 on the Fortune 500, anticipates a record year.

2. Publix Super Markets of Lakeland, Florida's largest private company and No. 8 nationwide, dominates the state's grocery market. Its third-quarter sales were $6 billion, a 3.5 percent increase from last year's $5.8 billion.

3. St. Petersburg investment firm Raymond James Financial is inches away from a 52-week high and even says acquisitions are possible.

4. St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit, among the most global of area corporations, this past summer hit its highest operating margin in the past five years. CEO Tim Main sees a period of "superior growth" ahead.

5. Tampa's TECO Energy, parent of Tampa Electric, is fine-tuning what it wants to own or sell but its stock price keeps rising.

6. Clearwater home care and oxygen supplier Lincare keeps ticking upward, despite threats of Medicare cutbacks.

7. St. Petersburg TV, online and catalog retailer HSN Inc. has soared this past year but slipped a bit lately as consumers remain thrifty. Now its challenge is to keep pace through the holiday season — especially compared to last year's blockbuster period.

8. Tampa staffing firm Kforce exceeded profit expectations for the quarter and its stock is up nearly 50 percent since September.

9. Tampa's WellCare Health Plans enjoyed a strong quarter and raised its outlook. But it's still mopping up a mess from a past FBI raid. Last month it sued former chief financial officer Paul Behrens and former general counsel Thaddeus Bereday for concealing their alleged roles in underpaying required refunds to state Medicaid programs.

10. Tampa call center firm Sykes Enterprises watched its stock free-fall in the first half of 2010. Now it's rebounding after Sykes trimmed some overseas centers.

11. Clearwater boat retailing giant MarineMax saw an uptick earlier this year but it's fading. CEO William McGill says he keeps hearing from prospective buyers who are hesitant to make a major purchase until they gain more confidence about the economy and the security of their own jobs.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Area business grow increasingly bullish but still hold off on hiring 11/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 7:33am]

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