Giant Food stock capped an end-of-year surge two weeks ago, closing at $29.625 after peaking earlier in the day at $30 a share. Taking stock splits into consideration, $30 is the highest asking price for Giant stock in its 25-year history.
The stock, which had been selling in the $23-$24 range in early fall, moved to the $25-$26 area in late October and November, then rose to $27 in mid-December and finished out the month by passing quickly through $28 and $29 to the $30 price. The stock has since settled back to the $28-$29 range.
Securities analysts who monitor Giant's business activities, earnings and stock prices offered these reasons for the stock's movement:
* Supermarket stocks, which are seen as good defensive investments in periods of economic uncertainty, have been outperforming the stock market recently. Grocery chains whose stock has climbed to new highs recently include Supermarkets General, Mayfair Supermarkets and Kroger Co..
* Giant is beginning to attract increasing national attention from investors because it has a 41 percent share of the supermarket business in the Washington metropolitan area, and because of its reputation for innovative and aggressive management.
* Giant was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal column (in mid-December) that discussed several supermarket chains as attractive takeover targets. Takeover rumors frequently raise the price of a stock.
* Giant's six-month price war over drugs, health-care products and beauty aids lowered earnings in the two quarters from June through November. But it now appears that the battle has brought more customers through the doors, generating not only larger pharmacy sales, but heavier sales in all departments. Thus, the result of the price war may be an improvement in earnings in the last quarter -- December through February -- a possibility that has not gone unnoticed.
"This may turn out to be a stroke of merchandising genius," suggests Eliot H. Benson, vice president and research director at Ferris & Co. Benson, who can easily tick off a list of superlatives about Giant operations, has been recommending purchase of the stock with a buy limit of $27. Now that the stock is above the limit, Benson suggests holding the stock and buying only on dips to $27.
The full impact of the price war will become clear when Giant tallies up the results for its fiscal 1985 year, which ends in February. Giant earned $2.77 a share in fiscal 1984 and, Benson forecasts, will do $3 a share for fiscal 1985. Before the price war began, he had expected the company to reach $3.35 a share.
To reach the $3 figure, Giant will have to earn $1.14 in the last quarter, up from the $1.01 of a year ago.
Analyst Robert M. Raiff of C. J. Lawrence in New York, who also follows Giant, is slightly less optimistic, forecasting $2.90 a share for fiscal 1984, which would mean that the last quarter would have to be $1.04. Raiff said he expects Giant's year-end figures to show that "total sales are very strong."
At Wheat, First Securities in Richmond, analyst Kenneth M. Gassman Jr. says Giant's appeal is enhanced by its strong management and its 2 percent earnings level, which, he says, is double the industry average. He, too, believes that short-term damage to earnings from the drug price war will mean bigger profits in the long term. Gassman looks for earnings of $2.75 for fiscal 1985, the least optimistic of the three forecasts.
David B. Sykes, Giant's senior vice president for finance, notes that pharmacy sales and store traffic are up for the year, although specific figures were not available. He disputes suggestions that drug prices may be raised after the price-cutting battle is over. "We won't revert to the old ways," he says. Prices will remain at the lower levels, except that Giant will begin to pass along manufacturer's increases, he says.
Providing a bit of history for the "what-might-have-been" investor, Sykes notes that Giant went public at $16 a share in November 1959. An investor who bought 100 shares for $1,600 then would have 1,008 shares today. At $28 a share, the stock would be worth $28,224, an increase of 1,664 percent in 25 years.
Hotel Investors Trust is a 15-year-old Chevy Chase-based real estate investment trust that specializes, as its name suggests, in hotel properties. Its major Washington-area holding is the new $6.5 million Brock Residence Inn at Tysons Corner. In 1980, Hotel Investors Corp. was formed to manage hotels leased from the Trust. Shares of the two organizations trade as one unit on the New York Stock Exchange, currently at about $27, not far from the five-year high of $30.75.
Hotel Investors apparently has done well enough to attract the attention of three Mississippi real estate companies, which have bought 5.1 percent of its stock. That's 135,360 shares, for which the firms -- part of the Eastover Group -- paid about $3 million.
The Mississippi folks told the Securities and Exchange Commission that they may seek representation on Hotel Investors' board of trustees and may wish to gain "significant influence over the management and policies" of the firm. Wilson N. Krahnke, senior vice president of Hotel Investors, said it is "premature" to decide whether to be happy or unhappy about the arrival of the Mississippi investors.
In Jackson, Miss., James N. C. Moffat III, vice president of the companies that form the Eastover Group, noted that the Hotel Investors purchase is only the most recent of the group's ventures into the Washington area. In the past, NOVA Corp. of Falls Church was merged with The Parkway Co., an Eastover Group member. Eastover also took over Riviere Realty Trust Co., formerly based in the District.
Hagerstown (Md.) Trust Co. is forming a bank holding company to be called Mid-Atlantic Bankcorp, and will trade one share of Trust Co. stock for two shares of the holding company, according to President William E. King Jr. The move will double the number of shares outstanding from 276,000 to 552,000 and halve the price of the stock, now selling for $40 a share. Jim Holzapfel, vice president of Kidder, Peabody & Co.'s Hagerstown office, believes the lower price will encourage buying from investors who have been reluctant to purchase the stock at $40.
Sutron Corp. of Herndon has been praised by Penny Stock Digest after a favorable report from Penny Stock News. The Digest calls Sutron ($2.25 bid, $2.625 asked) a company "with innovative products, a solid record of growth in both sales and earnings, and a market niche that insulates it pretty well against competition from much larger firms." Sutron, now in its 10th year, designs, manufactures and markets electronic data-gathering systems, including systems that gather weather information, measure manufacturing processes and evaluate military exercises.