Stock prices of Tampa Bay’s largest companies unsettled by U.S.-China trade war

Expect more volatility if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.
The trade war with China has taken a toll on the stock prices of several of Tampa Bay's largest companies.
The trade war with China has taken a toll on the stock prices of several of Tampa Bay's largest companies. [ RICHARD DREW | AP ]
Published Aug. 27, 2019

The fallout from the trade feud with China is spilling onto several area companies.

The world’s two largest economic powers have traded tariffs and rhetorical jabs for more than a year. One lands a blow and the other hits back.

They fight and stock markets tumble. When they agree to talk — or at least back off the threats — markets recover. Around they go.

So far, the S&P 500 is holding its own, up about 15 percent this year. But since the beginning of May, when trade tensions escalated, the picture isn’t so rosy. The S&P is down almost 2 percent in that time.

The same pattern holds for the stock prices of many of Tampa Bay’s largest publicly traded companies.

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Take Jabil Inc., the St. Petersburg-based high tech manufacturer with about 100 plants in 28 countries. In April, its stock price was up 20 percent since the start of the year. It plunged in May, after the Trump administration said it would go ahead with 25 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese-made products.

Jabil’s stock price recovered in June, thanks to the company’s better-than-expected financial report, and then dove again in early August when two-days of U.S.-China trade talks yielded more animosity and distrust. Jabil’s price is down nearly 11 percent since May 1.

Tech Data, the Largo-based technology and software distributor with operations in dozens of countries including China, suffered a similar fate. Its stock price was up more than 35 percent in the first few months of the year, only to tumble, recover and tumble again.

The company also felt how quickly the tit-for-tat between the two countries can roil stock prices. On Friday, President Donald Trump lashed out against China on Twitter, saying “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.” In just hours, stock prices dove. Tech Data’s fell 4 percent.

Since May, it’s down nearly 18 percent.

Tampa-based door maker Masonite’s stock price fell almost 7 percent over the same period. Pasco County’s Welbilt, which manufactures food service equipment, dropped more than 9 percent. Raymond James Financial, down 12 percent. Beverage distributor Cott Corp. and Bloomin’ Brands, known for chains including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill, are both down about 20 percent.

Fertilizer maker Mosaic, which moved its headquarters to Tampa last year, was already off to a tough start this year before the trade war intensified. Its stock price is off more than 30 percent since May and 38 percent for the year.

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Tampa-based WellCare, which provides managed health care plans primarily through Medicare and Medicaid, isn’t as affected by trade wars. That helps explain why its stock price is up about 3 percent since May, the only one of Tampa Bay’s largest companies to post a gain.

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Trade tensions affect companies in different ways, and they aren’t the only factor that moves stock prices. Strong sales and a solid balance sheet still matter, as does whether the U.S. Federal Reserve lowers interest rates in coming weeks, and by how much.

But it’s a good bet that many of our local companies’ stock prices will remain volatile as long as two economic heavyweights keep swinging away.