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Tampa Bay companies confront economic changes overseas and under seas

A "gig" economy. Brazil. Shamu. Broadband.

This odd quartet sits atop the list of topics influencing the Tampa Bay economy, according to a broad sampling here of second-quarter corporate performances.

The "gig" economy is an increasingly heard phrase about the trend of companies to hire more temporary staffers with specific expertise to complete growth projects — rather than hire traditional full-time employees. Evidence of that trend appears in the record financial results just reported by Tampa's Kforce, a veteran firm in the tech, health care and government world of temporary staffing.

It's a phenomenon Kforce CEO David Dunkel has noted repeatedly in recent years. He said it again in the latest Kforce quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts.

"Secular drivers continue to be key factors in flexible staffing growth against the backdrop of a nontraditional economic recovery," he said. Translation: This is not your father's — or mother's — workplace anymore.

"The gig economy is only part of a shift in employment over the past three decades, unleashed by technology and global trade," the Financial Times wrote this week.

Adding to the global impact on Tampa Bay is the recession that's taken the wind out of the once high-flying Brazilian economy. While we still see Brazilian tourists at Busch Gardens and other prominent entertainment spots, they are probably here in shrinking numbers. We see that effect in Tampa Bay in the fallen stock price of Panama-based Copa Airlines, which has served as a new flight conduit connecting Tampa International Airport to Brazil and other Latin American countries via the Copa hub. The brisk travel pace, however, has cooled.

Duke Energy, the nation's largest electricity producer and parent of Duke Energy Florida, also blames the sharp slowdown in Brazil for the underwhelming second-quarter performance of Duke's operations in Latin America.

"Long term," Duke CEO Lynn Good told analysts Thursday, "the issues are about the Brazilian economy. Does it get traction again and start growing at a pace more consistent with the last decade?"

A more upbeat outlook on Brazil comes from CEO Liz Smith of Tampa's Bloomin' Brands, whose Outback Steakhouse chain is expanding there and whose new Abbraccio's chain — Bloomin's Brazilian version of Carrabba's Italian Grill — "are performing in line with our high expectations," Smith said, "despite a difficult economy."

As for Shamu, the SeaWorld-branded orca remains at the controversial core of the battle for popular opinion over keeping killer whales in captivity. SeaWorld is still fighting the effects of the Blackfish documentary, which depicts theme park orcas as living unpleasant lives and its orca trainers working under dangerous conditions.

SeaWorld's financial numbers and theme park attendance are both down amid the ongoing debate.

The latest quarter also sheds light on the future of cable TV and Internet services in the Tampa Bay area. Frontier Communications by next year will succeed Verizon in this market as the provider of FiOS and related cable TV and Internet-related services. Frontier, whose stock price has lost nearly a third of its value since the start of the year, claims it's ready to enter this market.

Bright House Networks, another major provider of TV and Internet service here, has been acquired by Charter Communications. In Charter's quarterly chat with analysts, CEO Tom Rutledge offered a few hints of how Bright House services might change — for the better.

"Charter's slowest broadband tier is 60 megabits. We'll offer that — this fast minimum broadband speed to Bright House customers," he said. Bright House still promotes "high speed" broadband services starting with download speeds of 15 or 35 megabits per second.

Charter will offer its pricing model, the CEO said, "which is less expensive for consumers than Bright House's comparable offerings."

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

.Fast facts

Halftime report

Midyear performances of a sampling of companies important to the Tampa Bay economy.

Who's hot?

1. Kforce: The Tampa staffing firm enjoys record revenues and quarterly earnings, emerging as a master of the rising "gig" economy trend of companies hiring temporary tech and other expertise only for as long as needed. Kforce stock has not been this high since the late 1990s.

2. WellCare Health Plans: The Tampa-based Medicare and Medicaid coverage provider saw second-quarter revenues and earnings top Wall Street expectations. Said bullish CEO Ken Burdick: "We're feeling like in 2016 we won't have some of the headwinds that we had this year."

3. Raymond James Financial: St. Petersburg's expanding investment firm enjoyed strong gains in revenues and earnings, and decent stock gains that give the firm a market value of $8.4 billion — larger than any other publicly traded company based in this metro area. The company has aggressively recruited high-end brokers from other firms, amounting at midyear to 6,507 financial advisers — up 3.9 percent from a year ago.

Who's not?

1. SeaWorld: The Orlando theme park company that includes Tampa's Busch Gardens reported lower-than-estimated second-quarter earnings and a drop in attendance. To counter the Blackfish anti-orca captivity film, SeaWorld spent money on ads featuring whale trainers who say animals are treated well. The company also trimmed prices to lure more people to its parks, cutting the revenue it books per visitor.

2. Copa Airlines: The much-promoted Tampa airport connection to Copa's Panama hub to Latin America has not stopped its stock falling from $119 high in February to mid $70s now. Brazil's recession hurts. Copa reports earnings Wednesday.

3. Frontier Communications: Shares of the cable TV/Internet company that's taking over the Verizon franchise in Tampa Bay have drooped more than 30 percent since January. Its CEO seems more bullish on growing higher-speed Internet services than fighting the "cut the cord" trend hurting cable TV numbers.

4. Duke Energy: Quarterly and first-half revenues and earnings are down for the country's largest power company. Its stock, which started 2015 in the high $80s, now trades in the low $70s per share. One bright start: customer growth in the Carolinas and Florida. One dim spot: Brazil's weaker economy.

Tampa Bay companies confront economic changes overseas and under seas 08/06/15 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2015 8:15pm]
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