Superior Uniform dons award as best area stock performer of 2014

Posted on Jan 1, 2015


Superior Uniform Group has been racking up the awards this past year.

The Seminole-based uniform maker was recognized as a Top 50 company by Apparel magazine while its chief executive officer, Michael Benstock, was selected by ExecRank as a top CEO at a Micro-Cap Company and as a finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards in Florida.

Now, add another trophy to the shelf: The aptly-named Superior is the top-performing stock in 2014 among public companies based in Tampa Bay. Its stock nearly doubled over the year to $ 29.37 a share, distancing itself from the rest of the pack.

The $ 32.5 million acquisition of HPI Direct in late 2013 bolstered Superior’s roster of customers, especially in retail, food service and transportation. Among other customers touted on HPI’s site are Costco. Walmart and Walgreens.

Uniform sales companywide were up nearly 18 percent in the third quarter, with the HPI unit reporting an impressive 59 percent jump.

Benstock described 2014 as “an epic year,” with all divisions posting record revenues. Superior just reported two of the best quarters in its history and capped off the year Wednesday by announcing a planned 2-for-1 stock split in February.

“The improvements to the economy helped all of our divisions, as unemployment numbers were more in line with a stronger economy,” Benstock said in an email to the Times this week. “Our customers also are again spending money on refreshing their brands, and this helped us to design, manufacture and ship more uniforms to our existing customer base.”

At the opposite side of the spectrum, Tampa’s Walter Investment Management wound up as worst-performing local stock of the year, dropping more than 50 percent.

The mortgage servicing company, a top-performing local stock as recently as 2012, has been plagued by poor profit margins and sagging net income. Walter has also disclosed that it is the focus of several regulatory investigations into the business and loan servicing practices of subsidiary Green Tree Servicing.

Out of 25 stocks tracked by the Tampa Bay Times, winners outnumbered losers 16 to nine in 2014.

That comes in a year in which the markets overall soared again as both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poor’s 500 pierced record highs.

Homeowners Choice, the hottest local stock for 2012 and 2013, saw its fortunes sharply reverse last year.

Stung by negative reports — primarily by traders questioning its financial strength to handle claims after a major hurricane — stock in the insurance company’s parent, HCI Group, tumbled by 17 percent during the year.

Two other local stocks — deep-sea treasure salvager Odyssey Marine Exploration and small biopharmaceuticals firm Oragenics Inc. — actually performed worse than Walter Investment Management. But their stock prices wound up trading under $ 1 a share. The list of five best and five worst stocks does not include those that began or ended the year trading at less than $ 1.

To be included in the rankings, a company also had to maintain its headquarters in the region and be publicly traded the full year. That allowed doormaker Masonite International to be included after its first full year of trading but means freshly minted public companies like C1 Financial, Heritage Insurance Holdings and Sunshine Bancorp had to wait until this year.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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