Homeowners Choice and Walter Investment are best performers of 2012 among Tampa Bay stocks

In October, the growing property insurer Homeowners Choice began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Members of management, including CEO Paresh Patel, center, marked the occasion by ringing the closing bell at the exchange.

Homeowners Choice Inc.

In October, the growing property insurer Homeowners Choice began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Members of management, including CEO Paresh Patel, center, marked the occasion by ringing the closing bell at the exchange.

They are immersed in two of Florida's most troubled and controversial industries: homeowners insurance and subprime mortgages.

Yet both Homeowners Choice Inc. and Walter Investment Management Corp. broke out from the pack and doubled in value to become the best-performing Tampa Bay stocks of 2012.

In the closing weeks, Homeowners Choice pulled ahead to end up 116 percent for the year compared to a 105 percent rise for Walter Investment. The biggest loser of the year was Tampa-based Quality Distribution Inc., which fell 48 percent.

Overall, 2012 shaped up as a much more level year for local stocks than 2011, when local stock losers outnumbered winners almost 2:1.

Out of 30 stocks tracked by the Tampa Bay Times, 15 stocks ended the past year in positive territory, 13 were negative and two wound up flat.

It was a banner year for property insurer Homeowners Choice, which has been growing in large part by assuming policies taken out from the state-run insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance. The Tampa company even assumed the former CEO of Citizens Property, Scott Wallace, who joined the insurer in March as president of its property and casualty division.

In October, Homeowners Choice began trading on the New York Stock Exchange and members of management, including CEO Paresh Patel, marked the occasion by ringing the closing bell at the exchange.

Executives with Homeowners Choice declined to talk with the Times about their year-end performance, citing a quiet period for the stock.

In 2009, Walter Investment Management was spun off from Walter Industries, the longtime home building and coal mining conglomerate.

But even as Walter Industries moved its headquarters from Tampa to Alabama to be close to its mining operations, Walter Investment has emerged as a major Tampa stock on its own in handling a huge portfolio of subprime and other "credit-challenged" mortgages.

The investment firm made a big leap in 2010 with the $1 billion acquisition of giant home loan servicer Green Tree Credit Solutions. In September, it agreed to buy Reverse Mortgage Solutions of Spring, Texas, in a $120 million deal, adding a multibillion-dollar portfolio of reverse mortgages and 330 more employees. The deal helped push Walter Investment to more than 2,600 employees.

Stock in the home-shopping juggernaut HSN Inc. was third in percentage increase. But the St. Petersburg company's total value soared under CEO Mindy Grossman. It ended the year with a 24 percent return on equity and a market cap of nearly $3 billion, up almost $1 billion from the beginning of 2012.

Tampa Bay's already small stable of sizable public companies shriveled further over the year as a pair of European buyers swept in:

• Clearwater home oxygen services giant Lincare Holdings was acquired by the German conglomerate Linde AG in a $4.6 billion deal.

• Tampa-based SRI/Surgical Express, which provides sterilization services to hospitals, was picked up by British-based Synergy Health PLC for $25.1 million.

To be included, a company had to maintain a base of operations in the region and be publicly traded the full year. That excluded Bloomin' Brands, the corporate parent of Outback Steakhouse, which went public in August at $11.60 a share and is currently trading just under $16 per share.

The list of five best and five worst stocks also does not include those that began or ended the year trading less than $1. That left off numerous tiny, ailing stocks, from Accentia Biopharmaceuticals to Comprehensive Care Corp. to Innovaro Inc., which received notice in December that it faced delisting from the New York Stock Exchange.

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

.fast facts

Best local stock performance

COMPANY CLOSING RISE

1. Homeowners Choice Inc. $20.39 +116 percent

2. Walter Investment

Management Corp. $43.02 +105 percent

3. HSN Inc. $55.08 +49 percent

4. MarineMax Inc. $8.94 +33 percent

5. Cott Corp. $8.03 +26 percent

Worst local stock performance

COMPANY CLOSING DROP

1. Quality Distribution Inc. $6 -48 percent

2. TECO Energy Inc. $16.76 -14 percent

3. Tech Data Corp. $45.53 -10 percent

4. WellCare Health Plans Inc. $48.69 -10 percent

5. Unilens Vision Inc. $3 -9 percent

Source: Yahoo! Finance; Times research

Homeowners Choice and Walter Investment are best performers of 2012 among Tampa Bay stocks 12/31/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 7:11pm]

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