Hard to believe after the monumental stock market crash four years ago and painfully sluggish economic recovery, but the Dow and S&P 500 are flirting with new record highs.
And plenty of Tampa Bay area company stocks appear to be going along for the high-altitude ride.
An impressive mix of area public corporations has enjoyed some remarkable market gains in the past year, if not longer. Just to take a Tampa Bay sampling, eight stocks ranging from TV/online shopping phenom HSN to the fast-expanding Raymond James Financial investment firm have racked up impressive runs in share price.
It all sounds bullish. It even feels bullish. The New York Times front-page lead news story on Saturday started this way:
"Millions of people all but abandoned the market after the 2008 financial crisis, but now individual investors are pouring more money than they have in years into stock mutual funds. The flood, prompted by fading economic threats and better news on housing and jobs, has helped propel the broad market to within striking distance of its highest nominal level ever."
Most area stocks are enjoying the rising tide. But not all. Area companies from WellCare Health Plans to disappearing Innovaro are way off their one-year highs.
But they are clearly the exceptions. Consider the booming stocks of these eight companies:
• St. Petersburg's Raymond James Financial's 2012 acquisition of Memphis-based Morgan Keegan produced a big leap in growth. It also happens to be a good time to be a firm that buys and sells stocks. Monday's close (ticker: RJF) was $44.55.
• Tampa's Walter Investment Management went for the fences this month, saying it will pay $519 million for Bank of America loan-servicing rights. The deal includes $93 billion of unpaid principal balances of Fannie Mae-backed residential servicing assets. Walter stock (ticker: WAC) closed at $43.03.
• St. Petersburg's HSN Inc., which went public in a spinoff back in 2008, has pretty much risen steadily ever since. Few area companies boast market caps above $3 billion. HSN shares (ticker: HSNI) closed at $58.87.
• Sure, agribusiness company Alico Inc. is technically in Fort Myers, but the former and feisty state Sen. JD Alexander is now running it and enjoying a heady runup in value. Shares (ticker: ALCO) closed at $40.05.
• Tampa's Outback Steakhouse (and Carrabba's and Bonefish Grill, etc.) parent OSI Restaurant Partners was private until it went public (again) as the renamed Bloomin' Brands this past summer. With a brief fall hiccup, shares continue to gain. Maybe it's that new lunchtime menu. Shares (ticker: BLMN) closed at $18.45.
• Tampa's Cott Corp., maker of beverages for retailers, isn't winning much praise from analysts lately, but its stock price rides near multi-year highs. Shares (ticker: COT) closed at $8.66.
• In Tampa, property insurer Homeowners Choice Inc. was one of the best-performing area stocks in 2012 and, so far, looks solid for 2013. The trick, of course, is how long an insurer of Florida property can collect premiums and still avoid the hit from one big storm. So far, so good. Shares (ticker: HCI) closed at $22.73.
• Four years ago, shares of Clearwater boat retailing giant MarineMax were skidding toward $1. Boat sales sank during the recession as households quit spending on nonessentials. Now a leaner MarineMax is growing again, buoyed by more optimism over recreational water spending. Shares (ticker: HZO) closed at $11.75
Is this sustainable? Veteran stock watchers warn that markets can quickly overheat when consumers start to pile back into stocks.
On the other hand, the U.S. economy's still strengthening — despite Washington's blundering efforts to undermine it.
The new year has just begun. There's probably more life in the markets yet.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]