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| 2000 Globe 100 |
Cashing in the chips
Companies linked to semiconductors blast to the top
By Kimberly Blanton , Globe Staff, 5/22/2001
he plot line of ''Space Cowboys,'' last year's box-office sleeper about a crew of old-fogey pilots, is a lot like the impressive comeback last year of the Massachusetts semiconductor industry.
In the action flick, a quartet of retired pilots - played by Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner - are recalled to active duty to rescue the world from a catastrophe involving a Russian satellite. The pilots, bent but not bowed by the weight of their accumulated ages, emerge as heroes by adapting their circa-1960s know-how to the impending crisis in space.
Several Massachusetts companies, the tech industry's equivalent of buzz-cut engineers, surpassed all expectations last year, too - by updating technologies that allowed them to take advantage of the semiconductor industry's best year in history.
Analog Devices Inc., Helix Technology Corp., LTX Corp., and Teradyne Inc., all founded during the 1960s or 1970s - and others - blasted to the top 10 of The Globe 100 rankings with strong overall financial performance.
The annual ranking of Massachusetts public companies is based on a composite score derived from each company's financial results in calendar year 2000, including return on equity, percent change in profit margin, revenue, and percent change in revenue.
The emergence of specialized, high-technology manufacturers - producing everything from computers and semiconductors to medical devices - was part of a broad trend last year toward the traditional. After a dramatic 2000 in which the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite index hit a stratospheric record and then plummeted, spry young dot-com companies and other high-tech stars that had burst into view faded just as quickly.
Internet and telecommunications companies were eclipsed by high-tech manufacturers, financial firms such as FleetBoston Financial Corp., and retailers, including Talbots Inc., which sells women's clothing for the conservative dresser.
In a separate ranking of companies with the highest values in the stock market, the flashy, high-tech start-ups Akamai Technologies, CMGI Inc., and Sycamore Networks Inc. fell out of the top 10. The market-value rankings were based on March 31 closing stock prices, which were far below their levels in March 2000, when the Nasdaq was still near its peak. (All three companies are still in the top 100 market value ranking.)
''The mighty have fallen,'' Wayne Ayers, chief economist for FleetBoston Financial Corp., said of last year's high-tech burnouts. His employer, New England's biggest banking company, moved to second place from third, based on a market value of $40.9 billion in March.
As high-tech firms receded, they made room at the top for other standard-bearers to move up a notch or two in market value rankings. State Street Corp. rose to number four, up from seven last year - even as its market value dipped by $200 million over the past year to $15.2 billion in March.
Others that held their own in the rankings, despite a declining stock market, were Biogen Inc., which rose to number eight from number 10; retailer TJX Cos., at number nine, up from number 15; and Raytheon Co., which zoomed to number seven from number 16.
One high-tech stalwart that refused to budge from its lofty heights was EMC Corp. Despite a drop in its share price, Hopkinton-based EMC once again was the biggest Massachusetts company, with a $64.9 billion market value - half its value in March 2000. EMC, which employs 9,000 in Massachusetts, continued to benefit from perennial demand for its computer-storage hardware and software. The company also held its number four ranking on the overall Globe 100 list.
But in the high-tech world, Massachusetts companies in the wildly cyclical semiconductor industry had the most outstanding year: Six of the top 10 companies in The Globe 100 either make semiconductors or sell products or services to chip makers, exploiting an explosion in demand for chips used in everything from cars and cellphones to toasters. The chip industry had its best year ever last year, selling more than $210 billion worth of chips, analysts estimate.
Boston-based Teradyne, one of the world's leading manufacturers of automatic test equipment for chip production, saw its revenue and profit margin soar last year. As a result, the company led The Globe 100. The previous year, Teradyne ranked number 12.
While Teradyne moved up the list, less prominent companies involved in the chip industry that were not even in The Globe 100 a year earlier surfaced near the top.
LTX, which has transformed itself by developing new technology for testing the chips used in communications technology, achieved its best sales ever last year - doubling its prior record - and catapulted to number three. This is the first time Westwood-based LTX, founded in 1976, has made The Globe 100.
Helix Technology, a maker of specialized vacuum equipment used in chip manufacturing, also seemed to emerge from near-obscurity after its revenue surged 82 percent last year. Helix, incorporated in 1967, has periodically made The Globe 100, but last year's performance rocketed the Mansfield company to number five.
''I've seen these companies grow,'' said Jay Patel, senior analyst at Yankee Group, a Boston technology research and consulting firm, about the state's chip makers and suppliers.
''It's amazing to see their performance when they come out of the trough,'' he added. ''You won't see anything like that in any other industry - it's like snapping back from a spring, exactly like that.''
To be sure, semiconductor demand has fallen in recent months as corporate investment in computers and technnology has contracted nationwide. The state's manufacturers say they are bracing for a year that will almost certainly be less spectacular and may bring lower sales.
But last year, sales were also strong for other top 10 companies engaged in the semiconductor industries, such as Analog Devices Inc., which makes chips for specialized applications such as wireless devices at its plants in Asia, Europe, and North America. Analog, whose sale rose 74 percent, ranked number two.
ACT Manufacturing Inc., a contract manufacturer whose diverse work includes circuit-board assembly, ranked number six. It benefitted both from the chip boom and the growing popularity of its services.
Manufacturers in the medical field were also prominent among Globe 100 companies, highlighting their growing importance to the Massachusetts economy.
Millipore Corp., a maker of filtration tools used in the production of both chips and pharmaceuticals, made the top 10 for the second year in a row. President Francis Lunger said sales of chromatography and filtration systems to the drug industry rose sharply due to a big year for drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration. The Bedford company's twin strengths last year - selling to both the drug and semiconductor industries - boosted its ranking to number seven, up from nine the year before.
Millipore's line of business, Lunger said, ''is not flashy, but it is in a very critical part of the biosciences industry and the microelectronics industry.''
The same might be said about Cytyc Corp., whose ThinPrep Pap test has become critical to physicians. Based on strong sales of ThinPrep, the Boxborough company surged to number nine on The Globe 100. It had not even made the top 100 the previous year. Cytyc's success has materialized gradually: It has taken ThinPrep, approved in 1996, five years to capture 41 percent of the Pap-test market.
Other makers of medical devices made The Globe 100, including PolyMedica Corp. (20), Boston Scientific Corp. (46), and Zoll Medical Corp. (52). Due to the success of its drug for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Biogen Inc. again ranked high, at number 14.
Despite a bad year for the stock market in 2000, consumer spending has been resilient. And Massachusetts retailers and consumer-goods companies scored high as a group, outdoing some national retailers that posted mediocre sales last year.
Talbots, which proved women were willing to pay full price for attractive, high-quality clothing, soared to number eight on The Globe 100 - up from 28 the year before. Its sales rose 22 percent.
Yankee Candle Inc. and Reebok International Ltd. ranked numbers 22 and 35, respectively, while Neiman Marcus Group moved up two spots to number 31.
Retail sales this year hang in the balance, though. If the economy stumbles and more workers are thrown into unemployment, consumers may retrench.
That didn't happen in April, however. Consumers ignored the economic warning signs and continued to use their cash and credit cards.
As Oscar Gonzalez, an economist at John Hancock Financial Services, put it, ''You can't keep a good shopper down.''
Kimberly Blanton can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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