How are we doing? There are a million ways to take the economic temperature of the Tampa Bay area. One method we don't use often enough is to check in, all at once, with the major companies based here and ask:
Who's making money and who isn't?
The good news is seven of 10 large area companies turned a profit in the latest quarter and for the past fiscal year. The bad news is losses for a few in the latest quarter were bigger — big enough, in fact, to eclipse the combined profits in the latest quarter of the 10 companies. Much of the damage was due to writedowns of something called goodwill, which can shrink as the value of a company declines during hard times.
A look at the major companies here shows some clear winners and losers in the past year. Publix Super Markets, based in Lakeland and blessed to be in a business buffered against big economic swings — after all, everybody's got to buy food — shines brightest in its ability to sustain solid profits.
Among the 10 big area corporations studied, Publix earned the most in its recent quarter ($249 million), followed pretty closely by Tampa's rejiggered coal company Walter Industries ($240 million). These same two also finished first and second in fiscal year earnings, with Publix's $1.1 billion opening a profit lead over No. 2 Walter's $346.6 million.
Publix, it should be noted, is a huge private company. Its stock (current value: $16.10 a share) can be owned only by company employees, a rather lucky limitation these days since the stock market has pretty much crushed the shares of most publicly traded corporations nationwide.
Still, kudos to Walter for a pretty strong financial showing in difficult times. It got rid of its old home building and financial businesses and is devoted mostly to the mining and sale of metallurgical coal, which is used specifically to help make steel.
Publix, a behemoth by Florida standards, has annual revenues of nearly $24 billion and employs 141,000. A leaner Walter has annual revenues of $1.4 billion and about 2,400 workers.
On the flip side of performance is Tampa's Gerdau Ameristeel, a maker of steel rebar used in construction, which took a heavy writedown of goodwill and reported a $1.3 billion loss in the latest quarter. Gerdau, whose corporate roots range from Canada to Brazil, blamed the "global liquidity crisis" for the "rapid weakening of global economic stability" and for the big drop in demand for its steel products.
Also reporting a loss largely attributable to a goodwill writedown was Tampa staffing firm Kforce. In between were companies that despite financial headwinds still managed to produce decent profits in the latest quarter and past fiscal year. Bravo.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.