There has never been a year like the one that produced the numbers and rankings in this year’s Oklahoma Inc. "We were struck by a meteor last September,” JPMorgan Chase economist Jim Glassman said recently in Oklahoma City. "It did huge damage to the U.S. economy. But we’re rapidly recovering from this at least on the financial side.” Statistics for each of the state’s publicly traded companies comprising the Oklahoma Inc. rankings include the worst of times and the best of times. For most companies, the numbers include the year that began July 1, 2008 and ended June 30, 2009. Consider what happened during that period: The subprime mortgage market melted as overstressed consumers and overenthusiastic brokers realized that housing prices in overheated markets can indeed go down. A plethora of AAA-rated, but risky packages of debt undermined several Wall Street financial giants and the stock market collapsed. The steep decline of crude oil and natural gas prices dealt blows to Oklahoma’s public companies, which are heavily in energy. Some state companies slid into bankruptcy. On July 11, oil peaked at $147 a barrel, an unprecedented move that pushed Tulsa energy business SemGroup LP, which had bet its bankroll on lower prices, into bankruptcy. Two days later, the U.S. Treasury Department proposed a bailout for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the first of many financial interventions considered and undertaken. By Sept. 29, when the U.S. House rejected the first version of a $700 billion financial bailout, the Dow Jones Industrials suffered its biggest point loss ever. By March 9, the Dow hit a 12-year low. Since that time, major stock indexes have gained more than 50 percent. Traders bailed. Buy-and-hold became a high-risk proposition that many long-term investors rejected. Few have had time to catch their breath. But this seems like an apt time to take a look back.
The leadersThe Oklahoma Inc. rankings consider three metrics for each of the corporations. The companies are ranked from one to 44 by each measure, and the company that achieves the best overall ranking collects the top spot. The methodology rewards companies that grow quickly, boost profits and benefit shareholders. Rare is the company that can do all three. Syntroleum Inc. rose to the top of this year’s rankings after years as an unprofitable laggard. The Tulsa company long has attempted to commercialize its proprietary method of converting things other than oil into fuel. Syntroleum’s resurgence is linked to a partnership with Tyson Foods to build a plant in Louisiana that will turn animal grease into synthetic fuel. As of Sept. 30, the plant was mostly done, and on budget. Last year’s turnaround sent Syntroleum at or near the top of all three categories used in the rankings. It was first in revenue growth, second in earnings growth and third in shareholder return. Finishing second is Orchids Paper Products Co., which produces toilet paper, napkins and paper towels that major retailers sell under store brands. The Pryor company went public several years ago to raise money to boost its production, and recently added to its capacity again. Like Syntroleum, Orchids excelled in the rankings, finishing in the top five in each category. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, which ranked third, also was a comeback story. The Tulsa rental car company’s stock was in free fall last autumn when new CEO Scott Thompson and executives renegotiated credit agreements and managed to obtain relief from longtime contracts with failing automaker Chrysler. The stock, at less than $1 a share, was priced for bankruptcy and company officials were considering it as well. But the stock has been the biggest gainer among Oklahoma stocks in 2009. For the 12-month period used in the Oklahoma Inc. rankings, Dollar Thrifty ranked second in shareholder return and fifth in earnings growth.