Sykes Enterprises' secret is out; now every other public company in town will want to know how they pulled it off.
Out of a cluster of more than 30 locally-based public companies tracked by the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa-based call center operation spearheaded by the Sykes family was the sole one to end 2008 on the up side. Its stock closed Wednesday at $19.12, notching a 6 percent gain.
Even the best of the rest of the local stocks were losers for the 52 weeks, though second-best Brown & Brown rallied this week to avoid a double-digit percentage drop.
In a year the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed some 36 percent of its value — the biggest freefall since the Great Depression's 41 percent plummet in 1931 — how did Sykes avoid the carnage?
It helped to be in the outsourcing industry, which was fueled as companies cut internal costs. The result: in November, Sykes posted a 58 percent rise in third quarter profits and 18 percent jump in revenue with a strong Euro boosting its results in European call centers.
Brown & Brown, the general insurer with dual headquarters in Tampa and Daytona Beach, was next closest to respectable with a 9.8 percent drop. In December, while many credit-challenged companies were lying low, Brown continued its acquisition spree by buying five more small insurance companies in Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey and New Mexico.
In the worst of the worst category, the hardest-hit stock wasn't a surprise: Clearwater boat seller MarineMax, treading water with a 78 percent stock drop.
MarineMax has been hammered throughout the year. First, many stopped buying boats because of higher fuel prices; then consumers were caught in the recessionary squeeze that put luxury items like a 30-foot sports boat somewhat low on shopping lists.
Some of the area's biggest losers narrowly avoiding the bottom five, but shedding billions of dollars in value, included Gerdau Ameristeel (down 56 percent), Jabil Circuit (down 55 percent), Walter Industries (down 51 percent) and Tech Data (down 53 percent).
The Times analysis omitted local companies that weren't public for a full year, such as home shopping's HSN Inc., which was spun off from parent IAC/InterActiveCorp and began trading independently in August. It also left out public companies now trading for less than a buck a share (mercifully sparing from the list Clearwater's Aerosonic Corp., down 87 percent for the year to close at 65 cents a share).
Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8242.