Three years ago, an investor could have bought stock in Circuit City Stores Inc. for as low as $1.44 a share, adjusted for stock splits. Two years ago, the price had gone up to $5.54. One year ago, the stock was selling for $12.88. Today, the stock is at $30 and there are two kinds of Circuit City investors -- those who bought stock and those who wish they had.
Circuit City shares, hitting all-time highs, broke the $30 barrier during the first two weeks in February and crossed the $31 mark during the final week of February and the first week of March. The stock closed unchanged Friday at 28 7/8 on volume of 18,100 shares.
The torrid pace set by the stock price is reflective of the booming sales that Circuit City, which specializes in video, audio and other electronic equipment, has rung up year after year. For the fiscal years from 1982 to 1985, annual sales increases averaged 44 percent, but analysts believe the pace may be slowing.
Circuit City's growth has drawn the attention of professional investors -- the advisers who manage the huge amounts of money that rest in pension and other types of institutional funds. Standard & Poor's lists 58 institutions as owning almost 4.3 million of Circuit City's 10.7 million shares -- or about 40 percent. Institutional investors are often far ahead of the crowd because of their access to extensive amounts of research on growing companies.
Circuit City, with 100 stores and service centers nationwide, is still very much on the trail of growth. It eventually plans to have about additional 20 outlets operating in the Los Angeles area. And it may be heading for several southern states, including Florida, said analyst Guy W. Ford of the Investment Corp. of Virginia.
But Circuit City's rapid expansion, a softening of retail sales, the high level of national consumer installment debt and the possible impact of a recession on sales are worrisome to Ford, who recently wrote:
"We think the company's expansion plans are positioning it to become a large national player in the growing electronics retailing industry, but that current plans entail substantial risk of slowing the current earnings and growth pace. An easing of the recent frenetic pace of consumer spending later in 1985 could combine to produce some earnings disappointments in our opinion.
"Consequently," Ford continued, "we advise traders of Circuit City shares to use strength. . . to reduce holdings. We continue to recommend that long-term-oriented investors maintain positions, however, in anticipation of Circuit City's projected 20-plus percent growth through the 1990s."
Despite these reservations, Ford believes that Circuit City not only is in strong financial condition but is on its way to becoming a $1 billion company. Sales in fiscal 1982 were $176.1 million. They rose 39.6 percent in 1983 to $245.9 million, then climbed 45 percent to $356.7 in 1984. And they rose again by 46 percent to $519 million in fiscal 1985, which ended in February. For fiscal 1986, Ford is looking for $700 million in sales.
At that pace, can $1 billion in sales be far away? Ford thinks not.
USF&G Corp., a major property and casualty insurance company with headquarters in Baltimore, has lost the Prime 1 rating on its commercial paper. Moody's Investors Service said it has reduced the rating to Prime 2. The insurance company has about $154 million in commerical paper outstanding that will be affected by the rating change.
Moody's said that "pretax operating earnings have suffered extensively during the past four years and the company's insurance leverage, measured by insurance liabilities to capital, has increased significantly."
Meanwhile, Teledyne Inc., and a group of its affiliates, have sold 960,000 shares of USF&G at prices between $31.25 and $31.70 a share, picking up about $30.2 million.
Teledyne, a diversified California aviation products manufacturer, still holds 3.3 million USF&G shares. About a year ago, Teledyne decided to spend $1.7 billion to back 8.5 million of its own shares at $200 a share. Since then, Teledyne has been selling off its holdings in a variety of companies to pay for its buy-back program. In the process, the price of Teledyne stock has gone up from about $165 to $260 a share.
PHH Group of Hunt Valley, Md., which manages fleets of corporate vehicles and helps relocate transferred employes by reselling their homes, has come up with third-quarter earnings that were slightly better than expected, reports Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. analyst Joel H. Krasner.
PHH turned in 67 cents a share, up 13.6 percent over the second-quarter result of 59 cents, and above the 64 cents Krasner had expected. As a result, Krasner has boosted his 1985 estimate of earnings from $2.50 to $2.55 a share and his 1986 estimate from $2.70 to $2.80.
Krasner attributes the improvement, in part, to an easing of the competitive pressure on pricing in the vehicle management business. Meanwhile, relocation revenue was up 64 percent, with one-third of the increase estimated to come from Transamerica Relocation Service, the firm PHH recently acquired and merged with Homequity, its own employe relocation company.
PHH executives have been talking for some time about making a major acquisition to expand their business and using stock to pay for the purchase. The magic number was supposed to be $30 a share, the level the stock recently reached. But PHH officials say that if there are new developments on the acquisition front, they remain a closely guarded secret.
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. will have higher-than-expected earnings, reports analyst John B. Kellenyi of Drexel Burnham Lambert. Kellenyi has raised his estimate for 1985 earnings from $5.50 to $5.75 a share, with $5.95 predicted for 1986. The utility earned $5.54 in 1984. Kellenyi, who maintains his buy-hold rating on BG&E, attributes the higher 1985 estimate to the utility's decision to delay its coal-fired Brandon Shores generating unit from 1988 to 1992.
As a result, he wrote, "The company will have little, if any, new-money external-financing requirements, enabling it to pass down to the bottom line the increases in operating income and other income."
Chesapeake Corp., a paper and forest products company, is planning to issue $50 million in corporate bonds to help pay for new machinery and improved production facilities. The company, which has almost 3,000 employes, is based in West Point, Va., which is east of Richmond and north of Williamsburg. It has divisions and subsidiaries in seven states and owns 373,000 acres of timberland.
The expansion program, said Treasurer Alva H. Eubank, will total $150 million to $160 million. Chesapeake has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission for a "shelf registration," which means the company can sell its bonds whenever the market is most favorable.
Chesapeake, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has traded in the $30- to $40-a-share range during the last two years, after selling at between $19 and $29 in 1982. Goldman, Sachs & Co., Salomon Brothers Inc. and Wheat, First Securities Inc. are handling Chesapeake's bond underwriting.