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The energy boom spreads its wealth around city

Rankings show real estate and retail sectors are cashing in
Jeannie Keve, Houston Chronicle
Updated 3:20 pm, Friday, June 28, 2013

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  • The following are the top 10 companies on the Houston Chronicle's Chronicle 100 list. 1. Quanta ServicesSee who else made the list. Photo: Gary Fountain, Freelance / Copyright 2013 Gary Fountain

    The following are the top 10 companies on the Houston Chronicle's Chronicle 100 list. 

    1. Quanta Services

    See who else made the list.

    Photo: Gary Fountain, Freelance

 

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Click here to see The Chronicle 100 list.

Houstonians may look back on 2012 as the year things returned to normal.

This being business-centric Houston, that means the economy continued to grow. But if the companies in the Houston Chronicle 100 - a ranking of the city's top-performing public companies - are any guide, growth had begun to slow after the red hot days of 2011.

"One sign of a recovery is we're not going to grow as fast," said Latha Ramchand, dean of the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business. "The energy boom is helping us all, but the rate of increase is slowing down."

This year's list is more expansive, too.

Last year, the highest ranking for a non-energy company was No. 27. Energy-related companies claimed nine of the top 10 spots on this year's list, which is based on 2012 performance, and 15 of the top 20.

Yet Stewart Information Services, which provides title insurance and other real estate services, came in at No. 3, evidence of the surging real estate market.

Other industries also are showing signs of life.

Retail companies Francesca's Holdings and Stage Stores finished in the top 30 this year.

That could signal a return of retail. Michael Glazer, president and CEO of Stage Stores, which ranked No. 26, said having many of its stores in economically strong Texas helped the company's bottom line.

But Glazer, a longtime Stage board member who took over as top executive in April 2012, also credited new senior management with fueling "excitement" in merchandising and marketing.

Ramchand said retail's strong performance may spring partly from lower numbers during and right after the recession.

"Start from a small base, and revenue growth looks really good," she said.

Jesse B. Thompson III, business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said some of that growth also comes back to energy.

"People in energy are making money, and they spend it," he said. "They're buying more cars. They're buying more retail services. ... You peel the onion back far enough, and a lot of that money flows back to energy extraction."

Most of the top energy companies on this year's list weren't the traditional exploration and production companies of the past, but refining, petrochemical, service and transmission companies. Top-ranked Quanta Services provides infrastructure for electric power, renewable energy, natural gas and pipeline companies.

The Houston Chronicle 100, prepared for the newspaper by S&P Capital IQ, ranks Houston's top public companies, using a score based on four measures of financial performance in 2012: total revenue, revenue growth, earnings-per-share growth and one-year total return to shareholders on a dividend-reinvested basis.

The companies are ranked in each category, and the ranks are averaged to form the Top 100.

Slower growth

Growth rates slowed in 2012, mirroring trends in the national economy, said Rick Kaplan, chief investment officer for Legacy Asset Management.

"Companies are growing revenues at a much slower pace than earnings," he said.

Both earnings and revenue growth for the top 10 companies slowed considerably between 2011 and 2012.

Kaplan noted that, excluding Stewart Information Services and Powell Industries, which had earnings-per-share growth of 3,742 percent and 653 percent respectively, earnings per share grew at 79 percent for this year's Top 10 companies, compared with 266 percent last year.

Revenues grew 32 percent for the top 10 companies, compared with 52 percent last year, he said.

Moving to a new stage

After rising for several years, crude oil prices were relatively flat in 2012.

"That's going to take steam out of the growth numbers," Thompson said.

Natural gas prices continued to drop - they have risen slightly recently - and rig counts are down, too.

That has changed the mix of energy companies on the Houston Chronicle 100 list.

Scott Jackson, a portfolio manager at Legacy Asset Management, describes the transition this way: "We're moving on from the exploration stage. It's a manufacturing business now."

Only one company made the top 10 in each of the past two years: CVR Energy ranked No. 2 this year and No. 5 last year. It reported $8.6 billion in revenue in 2012, up from $5 billion in 2011.

Sugar Land-based CVR has interests in refining and fertilizer manufacturing, and Jackson said refining companies, along with master limited partnerships, have been among the top beneficiaries of the shale revolution, as refineries replace pricier imported crude oil with cheaper domestic shale oil.

Exploration and production companies are still making money, but the balance has shifted.

"Houston is still such a vibrant metropolitan area," Ramchand said. "Our story, a lot of it is driven by energy. What is going to make us significant on a global scale is the expertise that comes when industry develops in a certain location, the technology, the know-how.

"That's what we sell to the rest of the world."