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MORE THAN A NUMBER: Bay area companies get a real boost when their market value rises.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average bulled its way above the 10,000 mark Wednesday afternoon for the first time in 378 days.

For another strong performance you can look closer to home.

Most of Tampa Bay's 10 biggest public corporations are enjoying a strong bounce from their 52-week lows earlier this year. Many are close to or even above their stock highs of the past year.

That bounceback sends a powerful economic message that the recession is losing its grip on the Tampa Bay area. It shows investor confidence is reviving. It portends better times ahead.

Stock prices matter. Since their lows this year, rising shares of the bay area's 10 largest public companies have boosted their combined market value by a stunning $14.3 billion. Those additional billions act as a type of real currency and a psychological boost not only to bolster the foundation and health of the core businesses headquartered here, but to empower them to compete more effectively. Stronger stock values make Tampa Bay a wealthier business community able to think about growing rather than shrinking, and to support causes and philanthropy more vigorously.

Let's not get too giddy. Just as a Dow 10,000 is still far below the Dow 14,000 achieved in 2007, the local stock rebound does not mean our local corporate economy is back to normal. Many of the same companies with higher share prices today still enjoyed far higher stock prices earlier in 2008 and before.

And don't assume this market rebound will kick-start any boom in jobs in the short term. Florida's 10.7 percent and Tampa Bay's 11.3 percent unemployment rates are not about to shrink rapidly.

But they are also unlikely to increase, at least not much more, if the rising stock market sustains itself, or even steadies itself near a Dow 10,000.

Among the area's 10 largest companies, some boast stronger comebacks off their individual stock lows this year. Here's a quick look:

- Clearwater's Tech Data enjoyed a sharp increase in its stock price, which added $1.46 billion to its market value. The company has not seen its current $44 stock price since late 2004.

- Walter Energy and Gerdau Ameristeel, both of Tampa, and St. Petersburg's Jabil Circuit increased their market values by $2.5 billion to $2.7 billion - the largest gains in worth among the 10 companies.

- HSN Inc., which includes the former Home Shopping Network of St. Petersburg, suffered a dramatic stock price decline this year. Now it has sustained a dramatic increase. Its market value, as low as $79 million in late 2008, now hovers near $936 million.

It's not just the top 10 companies whose share prices show more vigorous signs of life.

Boat retailing giant MarineMax of Clearwater, clobbered by the recession's consumer contraction, watched its share price dwindle this year to $1.19. Now it's $8.24. That's still a fraction of the $32 stock price enjoyed in early 2006 but is far improved from the price in March.

There's no guarantee this market upswing is solid gold and likely to continue. Some economists and market analysts still talk of the dreaded double dip. But for now, the market upswing is reinflating the Tampa Bay market with some lost confidence. And boy, we've needed a shot of that for a long time.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at

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BOUNCE FOR BIG 10: Shares of Tampa Bay area's 10 largest public companies rise from 52-week lows.