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For many Tampa Bay area stocks, 2009 was banner year

Flanked by chief operating officer Thomas Cason, Aerosonic Corp. CEO Douglas Hillman, left, holds an Electronic Flight Instrument System that Aerosonic manufactures. The company’s stock was the bay area’s top performer over the past year.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Flanked by chief operating officer Thomas Cason, Aerosonic Corp. CEO Douglas Hillman, left, holds an Electronic Flight Instrument System that Aerosonic manufactures. The company’s stock was the bay area’s top performer over the past year.

You know 2009 was a fabulous year for bay area stocks when a company whose shares soared 184 percent didn't make the cut of the five hottest.

Indeed, of 41 bay area stocks tracked by the St. Petersburg Times, more than a third saw their prices at least double. Thirty companies, more than 70 percent, ended the year on the upside.

The region's biggest public companies, Tech Data and Jabil Circuit, both relished huge stock gains north of 150 percent.

Coming after a painful 2008 in which only one sizable bay area public company wound up with a higher stock price (Tampa call center operator Sykes Enterprises), it was quite the rebound year.

None of the superstar local performers of 2009 could top Aerosonic Corp. The Clearwater airplane parts maker posted a whopping 553 percent return.

The surge was all the more sweet for the 200-employee company given Aerosonic's rough 2008: a management shakeup; a devastating fire at its Clearwater plant on Hercules Avenue that temporarily crippled its ability to make virtually its entire product line; and a credit squeeze that forced it to turn to its customers for financial support.

"A lot of things that happened to us could have sunk of lot of companies," Aerosonic spokesman Mark Perkins said. "A lot of people, I think, wrote us off. That was one reason the stock was so low and rebounded so far."

In December, the company reported a third-quarter profit of $728,000 on $7.5 million in sales, compared with a loss of $992,000 on just $2.9 million in sales in the year-ago period.

Perkins credited the rebound to loyal employees, customers who stuck by Aerosonic and a new management team headed by CEO Doug Hillman and chief operating officer Tom Cason.

"The most important thing has been the support of our customers to stay with us as we went through our pain and regained our footing," he said.

The year was toughest on a pair of well-known Tampa Bay companies. Stock in treasure salvager Odyssey Marine Research sank by 56 percent, while shares in Utek Corp. fell 52 percent as the Tampa company tried to switch gears from investor in promising startups to a largely consultant role.

The Times ranking omitted area companies that were not public for a full year, leaving out the phenomenal run of Walter Energy spinoff Walter Investment Management (WAC). Since the real estate investment trust containing mortgage loans was created in April through a reverse merger with Hanover Capital Mortgage Holdings, Walter Investment has seen its stock price double to more than $14 a share.

The breakout of best and worst performers also omits those that ended the year trading below $1 a share.

The stock that came in No. 6, with a 184 percent return? Kudos to WellCare Health Plans, which was inched out of the top five by the 193 percent return posted by Nicholas Financial. A year ago, both were among our five worst stocks.

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

2009 local stock performances

Best

1. Aerosonic Corp. (AIM), closing price: $4.44, up 553 percent

2. Sypris Solutions (SYPR), closing price: $2.82, up 348 percent

3. Cryo-Cell International Inc. (CCEL.OB), closing price: $1.78, up 324 percent

4. Walter Energy Inc. (WLT), closing price: $75.31, up 318 percent

5. Nicholas Financial (NICK), closing price: $6.89, up 193 percent

Worst

1. Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. (OMEX), closing price: $1.41, down

56 percent

2. Utek Corp. (UTK), closing price: $4.25, down 52 percent

3. First Community Bank Corp. of America (FCFL), closing price: $2.41, down 49 percent

4. Brown & Brown Inc. (BRO), closing price: $17.97, down 14 percent

5. Flanders Corp. (FLDR), closing price: $4.46, down 5 percent

Coming Sunday: Comprehensive listing of 2009 year-end stocks

For many Tampa Bay area stocks, 2009 was banner year 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 8:42pm]

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