How big Georgia public companies have rebounded in COVID’s year two

ORIGINAL CAPTION: November 28, 2014 Atlanta - Picture shows Coca-Cola Company Headquarters in Atlanta on Friday, November 28, 2014. Coca-Cola reported $233 million in tax breaks in 2011-2013 - almost 15% of its federal tax bill - related to giving its management stock options and restricted stock. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
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Most of Georgia's biggest public companies, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company, appear on track to not only surpass their financial results from last year but also those of 2019, before the pandemic scrambled lives and commerce. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

The pandemic isn’t over, but much of the financial pain it brought to Georgia’s big public companies might be.

Some of Georgia’s notable companies, including Home Depot, UPS and Coca-Cola, are faring better as the second year of the pandemic comes to a close.

Most of the state’s biggest public companies have reported results that appear to put them on track to exceed their financial results from 2019, before the ripple effects of COVID-19 rearranged the lives of metro Atlantans and upended much of global commerce.

“The economy is at least as good now as it was before the pandemic,” said Roger Tutterow, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University.

Early in the pandemic, the nation went into a steep recession. But it was short lived. Huge waves of federal government stimulus dollars helped.

Challenges remain for businesses, as well as consumers, Tutterow said. Among the most significant: widespread shortages of workers, rising inflation that erodes buying power and disruptions in supply chains here and around the world.

Yet, the bulk of the state’s large corporate players appear to be on track to have a strong finish to 2021.

All of Georgia’s 10 biggest public companies — Home Depot, UPS, Coca-Cola, Aflac, Southern Company, WestRock, Genuine Parts, Delta Air Lines, PulteGroup and Mohawk Industries — have generated higher revenues so far this year than in the same period last year, according to their latest quarterly financial reports. And all but Delta Air Lines logged revenue at least as good or better than the comparable period in 2019.

Profits for eight of the businesses also bested what they reported for the similar period two years earlier, before the pandemic. The exceptions were Delta and Southern, the parent of Georgia Power. Delta continues to wrestle with business travel that has yet to fully rebound. While it started turning a profit again, its chief executive said he expects losses ahead amid rising fuel prices.

But overall there’s positive news for people who own stock in most of the biggest Georgia companies. Compared to the adjusted share price for the last trading day in 2019, share prices were up for all but Delta as of the close on Nov. 17.

That’s a long way from the way the world looked early in the pandemic. Ripple effects from the coronavirus and the concerns it spawned thrashed many companies, large and small, at least in the short run.

Owners of many restaurants and hotels were decimated. Delta was whipsawed from big profits pre-COVID to billions of dollars in losses. With people steering clear of restaurants, convenience stores, concert halls and sports arenas among other places, Coke saw its beverage sales volumes take their steepest annual drop since just after World War II. More recently, its business has rebounded, helped by elevated sales at stores and gradual improvements at restaurants and other outlets.

Some companies saw their business boom pretty early in the pandemic. A boost in ecommerce flooded UPS with new deliveries. The shift to people working from home helped spark a house-buying spree and home renovations that aided Home Depot, builder PulteGroup and, eventually, flooring manufacturer Mohawk Industries.

It’s significant that many companies that were hurt initially have rebounded, said Bob Willis, the chief investment officer for Gainesville-based Willis Investment Counsel.

“It speaks to the resilience of these companies and their ability to adapt,” said Willis.

But moves at the federal government level were key, he said, particularly providing stimulus dollars for consumers and keeping interest rates ultra low. That gave “consumers and businesses an almost interest-rate-free source of capital and financing.”

Pent-up consumer demand and money to spend “are powerful catalysts,’ Willis wrote in an email. “Only time will tell if these twin engines of federal stimulus and federal reserve policy are sustainable, or artificial. But, for the moment, corporate America is in good shape.”


Georgia’s 10 largest publicly traded companies:

Home Depot

UPS

Coca-Cola Company

Aflac

Southern Company

WestRock

Genuine Parts

Delta Air Lines

PulteGroup

Mohawk Industries

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