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Dow crash heard loudly in bay area

A crushing day on Wall Street, driven by global worry and a lack of faith in the new $700-billion federal rescue package, claimed more than a few Main Street victims.

Despite emergency injections of funding to banks Monday by the Federal Reserve, many publicly traded Tampa Bay area companies suffered hefty losses in stock values as the Dow fell 370 points, or 3.6 percent, and dropped below 10,000 for the first time in four years.

The economic toll to the Tampa Bay area has been huge, though not obvious to the casual observer. Tens of millions of dollars disappeared from local companies in the market decline on Monday. And more than $10-billion has evaporated from these same public companies in the past year, based on the falloffs in their share prices from their highs. That market loss can be felt in job cuts, canceled expansion plans, inability to gain access to credit and, in the recent case of Tampa's Shells Seafood Restaurants, bankruptcy.

Some smaller companies here whose shares already were low saw their market value drop by more than a fifth in a single day.

Among the hardest-hit were Clearwater aircraft electronics manufacturer Aerosonic, off 25 percent to $2.25; Tampa bulk chemical transporter Quality Distribution, down 23.5 percent to $3.15; Seminole-based uniform supplier Superior Uniform Group, off 22.3 percent to $8.08; and Tampa operating room supplier SRI/Surgical Express, down 21 percent to $2.40.

No less damaging are the ongoing stock declines suffered by some of the area's more prominent corporations, including some whose stock prices have now fallen below $10 a share. Single-digit stock prices in the current market, where investors seek conservative places to put their money, can put companies in dangerous territory. Some institutional investors that cheerfully invest in a $15 stock may avoid the same company at $8 a share.

The bottom line: Wary investors like the cushion of value provided by stocks valued above $10. As for stocks that drop under $5 a share, that's turf often left to higher-risk investors and speculators.

That's the trick for growing numbers of Tampa Bay stocks. More than a dozen public corporations, small to large, now trade under $10 a share.

Among the heavyweights is Jabil Circuit, the global electronics manufacturer based in St. Petersburg whose shares closed Monday at $8.28 — a 52-week low. Since its peak of $22.84 a share in the past year, Jabil has shed more than $3-billion in value. Jabil's current worth: $1.7-billion.

Another area giant humbled of late is Tampa's Gerdau Ameristeel. The maker of steel used in construction has lost more than $5-billion in market value in the past 12 months. Ameristeel's worth is only $3.4-billion on the New York Stock Exchange after its stock fell and closed at $7.83 Monday. That's one more company at a 52-week low.

A final example of a battered stock is Clearwater's MarineMax. Shares of the country's biggest boat retailer closed Monday at a puny $6.37. That means the company has lost more in value in its decline from its stock peak this year than its current market worth of $117-million.

That's how much damage the market is inflicting on our regional economy these days.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

Dow crash heard loudly in bay area 10/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 5:07pm]
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