Wall Street's bulls went crashing through the barriers during January, driven by rebounding high-technology stocks.
The month witnessed the longest sustained rally since August 1982, which carried the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new high of 1292.62. The Dow average gained 6.21 percent, more than in the last 12 months combined.
Analysts attributed the January spurt to a combination of factors, ranging from the drop in interest rates and oil prices and the strong economy to a popular perception that something will be done this year about the federal deficit.
Declining interest rates drew investors away from money market funds and fixed-income investments. The stock market itself was fueled by rises in high-technology issues, most traded over the counter, and other OTC stocks, which had lost a third of their value during the lackluster market of late 1983 and 1984. Stocks of financial institutions that had been battered by high interest rates also improved dramatically.
Over-the-counter stocks did even better than the New York Stock Exchange issues that are measured by the Dow, advancing 12.67 percent, increasing their value by more than 2 1/2 times that of the preceding year. Stocks on the American Exchange rose 9.7 percent in January, over twice the rate of growth in 1984.
In the over-the-counter market and on the Amex, the one-month percentage gain also exceeded that for the previous five months. The Nasdaq composite index was up 12.7 percent last month, versus 7.7 percent between August and December. Several analysts attributed the performance to end-of-year selling for tax purposes, which brought down the Dec. 31 average; others said it was caused by the undervaluation of high-tech stocks that did not perform well during the August 1984 rally.
Though most of the profits in the stock market during the past six months came in the last 30 days, those investors who got in before last August's mini-rally can now take some good long-term capital gains. As of Jan. 29 there were a dozen stocks traded on the Amex that had doubled in value and 58 that had grown by 50 percent or more.
Topping the list was American Medical Buildings Inc., which designs and constructs hospitals; its stock was up 270 percent, from 5/8 to 2 3/8. Next was Sterling Extruder Corp., up 145 percent to 22 3/4, followed by CTG Inc., involved in computer services, which advanced 144.78 percent to 82.
Acme Precision Products, a machine tools maker, rose 141.18 percent to 5 1/8. GI Export Corp., an importer and distributor of foreign car replacement parts, profitted from the luxury car market, rising 132.43 percent to 10 3/4. And Washington Homes, a local builder, was up 126.67 percent to 8 1/2.
In over-the-counter action, computer and medical equipment manufacturers, biotechnology and health services stood out. On the Big Board, the gains were spread among a variety of stocks, ranging from interest-rate sensitive financial institutions and housing to recovering oil and gas companies.
Johnston Lemon & Co. Inc., a Washington brokerage, saw some spectacular comebacks of speculative stocks in which it makes a market. Micros Systems, a manufacturer of electronic terminals, rose 83 percent to 4 1/8. MCI, the long-distance telephone company, crept back 36.6 percent to 10 3/8. Spectrum Controls, a manufacturer of electronic components, rose 47.7 percent to 8 1/8.
Alex. Brown & Sons of Baltimore reported the following winners: Stratus Computer, up 70 percent to 16; Digital Communications, up 57 percent to 20; Home Health Care America, up 54 percent to 11 3/8. All are traded over the counter.
For mutual fund investors as well, it was the month to be in equities. The average general equity fund outpaced the Dow with a gain of 8.72 percent, while fixed-income funds rose just 2.41 percent, according to Lipper Analytical Securities Corp. Growth funds investing in small companies were the winners, rising 13.47 percent.
Certain growth funds far outperformed the average. The 44 Wall Street funds proved the old market adage that what goes down usually comes up if you wait long enough. The 44 Wall Street Equity Fund led the pack with a gain of 29.1 percent in January, following a 38.44 percent slide last year. The 44 Wall Street Fund, a sister fund which brought up the rear last year with a loss in value of 59.6 percent, rebounded in January with a gain of 22.51 percent.
Criterion Technology had the third-best record among equity mutual funds with a 20.9 percent gain, according to Lipper, which showed that Fairfield Fund and Steinroe Discovery, both small company growth funds, appreciated by 19.52 and 19.36 percent respectively during the month.