Bigger spenders

A rise in returns for the top public companies mirrors a comeback in consumers’ confidence.

By Erin Dunn clientuploads/Archive_Images/2013/08/top-75-coming-and-goings.jpg

Consumers are opening their wallets again, a boon for businesses that sell everything from doughnuts to light-emitting diode bulbs. Even some of North Carolina’s long-beleaguered apparel and textile companies, such as Greensboro-based Unifi Inc., High Point-based Culp Inc. and Winston-Salem-based Hanesbrands Inc., posted above-average results on Business North Carolina’s annual ranking of the 75 largest public companies headquartered in the state. “We’re starting to see the consumer come back,” says Don Olmstead, managing director of Novare Capital Management LLC in Charlotte. His company compiled the list, which is based on market value on the last trading day in June.

The Consumer Confidence Index backs him up. In June, it reached its highest point since January 2008, and Tar Heel companies including Winston-Salem-based Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., Durham-based Cree Inc. and Charlotte-based Sonic Automotive Inc. (page 50) have reaped the rewards. Olmstead’s company has bet on Greensboro-based VF Corp., which jumped three spots to No. 6 this year. He says some apparel and textile companies restructured operations and debt during the downturn; others, such as VF, bolstered their brands.

The Top 75 as a whole did well last year, recording a median change in market value of 29.2%, a sharp increase compared with 2012, when it rose just 5%. The minimum needed to land on the ranking rose from $58 million to $87.1 million.

“Earnings have come back, margins have expanded, revenue is up. I think that’s what’s powering the stock market. We’re still fairly optimistic about stocks,” Olmstead says. But the numbers don’t mean North Carolina companies are dramatically outperforming their peers, says Brian Rudisill, Novare Capital senior portfolio manager, who compiled the list with research analyst James Harlow. Good returns at small-cap companies skewed results higher — median change in market value among the largest 50 increased 20.3%, closer to the S&P 500’s 18% rise over the same period.
— Erin Dunn