published Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Chattanooga: Except for Astec, local stocks plunge

Chattanooga-area floorcovering companies, banks and retail-oriented businesses all felt the pain of the sharpest economic pullback in decades late last year.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, shares of only one publicly traded company in the area experienced an uptick. Asphalt equipment maker Astec Industries’ stock price rose 1.62 percent in the quarter.

Mickey Robbins of the Chattanooga investment planning firm Patten & Patten said the nation’s financial system seems to have stabilized and steps to deal with its problems are being dealt with in a reasonably effective way.

“Now we’ve got a pretty serious economic downturn to deal with,” he said. “It’s going to be a lengthy process to deal with it.”

Floorcovering businesses continue to feel the force of the housing market meltdown.

Chattanooga-based Dixie Group’s shares dropped more than 79 percent in the quarter. Mohawk Industries’ stock price was off more than 32 percent in the period.

Shopping center developer CBL & Associates Properties Inc. also took a hit in the quarter, with its shares falling 67.6 percent.

Even shares of consumer products maker Chattem, which announced a major expansion in the quarter, were off — though by just 8.5 percent.

Frank Schriner, president of First Tennessee Bank in Chattanooga, said confidence is a major missing piece in the market.

“It started out as a consumer-led recession,” he said recently. “It’s still consumer led.”

He said if the consumer gets back into the marketplace, such as in the buying cars, that will help manufacturers and other businesses.

“We’ve got to go through this confidence-building period,” he said.

Mr. Robbins said a proposed federal fiscal stimulus program will play an important part in a recovery. He said it’s interesting to see stimulus plans under way in China and other countries.

But Mr. Robbins said the American economy could stay weak throughout 2009, though it’s possible there could be “rays of sunshine” in the second half of the year.

“The question is when will the markets anticipate eventual improvement,” he said.

Mr. Robbins said there are asset classes which are attractive. He said corporate bonds continue to recover. Stocks also will be attractive in time, he said.

The Chattanooga area looks somewhat better than the national picture, Mr. Robbins said.

“It’s not nearly as dependent on any one industry as 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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