Local firms' shares end low

Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 11:20 p.m.

As Wall Street continued its slide in 2002, it dragged down the stock values of many companies with local connections.

Shares at all local firms ended the year lower than their 52-week highs for 2002. Shares of retailer Dollar General, which operates a distribution center in Alachua, finished the year at $11.95, just 25 cents above its low for the year, and BellSouth and Cox Communications both saw their stock drop $15 off their high mark in 2002, as the telecommunications industry struggled overall.

It's no secret that the broader markets suffered last year, as both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 endured their first three-year declines since the period of 1939 to 1941. The Nasdaq also posted its first three-year loss since its formation in 1971, and with a sluggish economy and concerns with Iraq dominating the headlines, there wasn't much good news for investors.

The first day of 2003's trading on Thursday provided a nice contrast. The Dow jumped 265 points, the Nasdaq rose 49 points and the S&P 500 went up 29 points.

Whether Wall Street rebounds through the rest of 2003 remains to be seen, said Jeff Shamis, a financial advisor with American Express Financial Advisors Inc. in Gainesville.

"Honestly, I don't know," Shamis said. "The uncertainty I see includes the situation with Iraq, and now the North Korea question. The economy is still shaking out, too. We've actually been very busy advising investors. During these markets, we do a lot more counseling and hand-holding."

Some local firms actually had a solid year on Wall Street. Shares of Gainesville-based Exactech Inc., an orthopedic products manufacturer, finished at $19.44, up nearly $3 from the start of the year. Jacksonville-based CNB National Bank saw its stock finish at $15.89, a gain of more than 50 percent from its opening price of $10 in 2002.

Regeneration Technologies Inc. dropped all the way to $4.20 in February, but the Alachua-based tissue processor recovered to close the year at $10.12. Florida Rock Industries Inc., which operates a cement plant in Newberry, finished the year at $38.05, more than $6 below its high for 2002.

Wachovia Corp., which completed a merger with First Union, hit a high of nearly $40 last year and closed the year at $36.44. The combined entity, known as Wachovia, started conversions of its offices and bank branches in Florida in November, and will proceed to Georgia during the first quarter of 2003, said Mary Beth Navarro, a Wachovia spokeswoman.

"Everything is on track and going well," Navarro said. "We started an advertising campaign in Florida at the end of December, and now we're prepping for Georgia."

In 2002, the Dow Jones dropped 16.8 percent, the S&P 500 fell by 23.4 percent and the Nasdaq's value decreased by 31.5 percent. Tom Antony, a certified financial planner in Gainesville, said he believed the markets would post yearly gains when 2003 is done, but the nation's economy will be the deciding factor in that success.

"I think there will be some small gains, nothing huge," Antony said. "Even with what's going on in Iraq, the economy's uncertainty is the bigger deal. An improvement to consumer confidence, along with some nicer numbers for corporations, would be good for the stock market right now."

Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or coombsj@gvillesun.com.

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