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SRI/Surgical Express tops list of best Tampa Bay stocks for 2010

Streamlined processing and a return of elective surgeries helped SRI’s stock surge 132 percent.

SRI Surgical photo

Streamlined processing and a return of elective surgeries helped SRI’s stock surge 132 percent.

Tampa medical supplies company SRI/Surgical Express has been ailing for years. But it just sent an uplifting year-end message to investors: We're back.

Fresh off of posting its first quarterly profit in five years, SRI Surgical's stock closed the year up a more-than-healthy 132 percent, making it the best-performing Tampa Bay area stock for 2010. Close on its heels: Tampa chemical trucking company Quality Distribution, which ended up 127 percent.

"We've been working on our recovery about three years now," SRI Surgical chief executive Gerald Woodard said. "We've been very methodically executing our (turnaround) strategy and believe it's begun to pay some benefits … especially over the course of the last nine months."

For public companies based in the bay area, the past two years have been a tough act to follow. 2008 was the year of the plunge with all but one major local stock dropping in value, and 2009 was the year of the giant rebound, with more than a third of bay area stock prices doubling.

This past year was a bit more restrained, but still most local stocks wound up in better shape. Out of 38 local stocks tracked by the St. Petersburg Times, 24 ended the year with a higher price and 14 were on the down side.

Many of the biggest bay area stocks boasted handsome returns: Jabil Circuit, for instance, was up 14 percent and Raymond James Financial jumped 37 percent. (Another stalwart, Tech Data, fell 6 percent). Only a handful of companies could boast a triple-digit surge, as was commonplace in 2009.

SRI Surgical was among the few in the stratosphere this time, although its percentage jump was from a relatively low $2.05 a share. The company hopes this is just the first step in a return to glory days. Back in the 1990s, SRI Surgical was flying high, but through much of the past decade it has been faltering.

"The company has not performed well for quite a number of years," said Woodard, who joined as CEO in 2008. "We've really been focusing on our core business and trying to get healthy again."

In stitching a comeback, the company streamlined operations at its 10 processing plants. It capitalized on the environmental sustainability movement to market its reusable surgical supplies to hospitals and surgical centers eager to cut down on operating room waste. It signed more deals to sell its products on the West Coast. It began holding analyst conference calls again this year for the first time in several years.

And it seized on shifting market conditions, as elective surgeries began bouncing back from recessionary lows.

"We've reached profitability," Woodard said. "The next step for us is to engage the investment community much more aggressively."

Meanwhile, a name change did little to help Utek Corp., a Tampa company that helps corporations commercialize university research. The company, which rebranded itself in March as Innovaro, was the worst-performing stock of the year.

It was a year of transition, as a couple of longtime public companies went private, from the tiny (Clearwater's Digital Lightwave) to the big (Tampa's Gerdau Ameristeel, whose remaining publicly traded shares were bought by Brazilian parent Gerdau SA). Also gone was Switch & Data Facilities, bought by Equinix Inc. for $683 million in a deal completed in May.

The ranking of the five best and worst does not include stocks that began or ended the year trading for less than $1 (which leaves out manufactured home builder Deer Valley Corp., whose stock jumped 76 cents on Friday, a stunning 103 percent surge, pushing it up 305 percent for the year).

Another criterion: Ranked companies had to be based here. Hence, a company like Bovie Medical, which would have been among the worst-performing stocks, was omitted. (A maker of electrosurgical products, Bovie's manufacturing operation is in Largo but its headquarters is in New York.)

One of the bay area's biggest public companies, Walter Energy, is still in the midst of moving its headquarters closer to its coal terminals in Birmingham, Ala., so it was ranked one final time.

Turned into a nice swan song. Thanks to rising coal prices, Walter exits as not only the highest-priced local stock, but also one of the top five performers of the year.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Best local stock performances

COMPANY CLOSING RISE

1. SRI/Surgical Express Inc. (STRC) $4.75 132 percent

2. Quality Distribution Inc. (QLTY) $9.09 127 percent

3. Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. (OMEX) $2.78 94 percent

4. Syniverse Holdings Inc. (SVR) $30.85 75 percent

5. Walter Energy Inc. (WLT) $127.84 68 percent

Worst local stock performances

COMPANY CLOSING DROP

1. Innovaro Inc. (INV)$1.43 67 percent

2. First Community Bank Corp. of America (FCFL) $1.22 57 percent

3. Paradise Inc. (PARF.OB) $14.01 22 percent

3. (tie) Aerosonic Corp. (AIM) $3.47 22 percent

5. Sykes Enterprises Inc. (SYKE) $20.26 21 percent

This chart has been revised to reflect the following correction: Lincare Holdings rose because of a 3:2 stock split and is not among the lowest-performing local stocks.

SRI/Surgical Express tops list of best Tampa Bay stocks for 2010 12/31/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 3, 2011 3:58pm]
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