Investing in Washington business is officially an idea whose time has come.
Two major Washington investment organizations have decided, almost simultaneously, to create mutual funds devoted to the stocks of Washington-area companies. With the way area stocks have been climbing during the past several years, the only surprise is that the funds weren't started sooner.
The first fund being launched is the Calvert Washington Area Growth Portfolio, sponsored by the Calvert Fund, a subsidiary of the Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Co. Calvert and Acacia both are Washington-based companies. The portfolio will be available to investors starting today.
Coming soon will be the Growth Fund of Washington, sponsored by Johnston, Lemon & Co., a regional brokerage house, working with investment advice from Government Employees Insurance Co. Geico's investment team, headed by Louis A. Simpson, finance committee chairman, has been noted for achieving superior returns on its $1.5 billion company portfolio.
Although the folks at Calvert and at Johnston, Lemon were reluctant to talk about it, they fell into dispute over the selection of names for the funds. Calvert, which was first to file its name, apparently got the phrasing Johnston, Lemon would have preferred.
Underlying the effort to establish the new funds is the emergence of the Baltimore-Washington-Richmond region as an increasingly dynamic business community and a premier area in which to find companies that provide solid, long-term investments.
Since 1980, for instance, the Johnston, Lemon index of 30 Washington-area stocks has risen 353.21 percent, compared with 66.41 percent for the S&P 500 and 51.73 percent for the Dow Jones industrial average. During the first five months of this year, the index was up 27 percent, compared with 12.2 percent for the S&P 500 and 7.5 percent for the Dow average.
Although past performance is rarely a guarantee of future results, the managers of both new funds apparently are hoping that by investing in Washington regional stocks, they will be able to prove the truth of the maxim "nothing succeeds like success."
With $1 million in hand, traders for the Washington Area Growth Fund went to the market Thursday and bought shares in 14 of the Washington region's most successful companies. These are the companies that, by and large, would have guaranteed the greening of any investor's portfolio during recent years.
The initial purchases for the WAG fund, as it already is being called, included Martin Marietta, Marriott, Giant, Hechinger, The Washington Post, Pepco and USAir. Also on the list were PHH, Atlantic Research, McCormick & Co., James River, Overnite Transportation, Radiation Systems and Vie de France.
While these are the core holdings of the fund, said Joseph A. Clorety II, senior vice president for investments at Acacia, he hopes to hold about 30 stocks in the portfolio, with 75 percent in the large, well-established companies and 25 percent in smaller, emerging growth companies. Some of these investments, he said, also may be used in a venture capital role.
The shares of the WAG fund are selling initially at $15 each, with a minimum investment required of $2,000. Subsequent investments are $250. The Johnston, Lemon fund will be sold at $10 a share, with a minimum investment of $1,000 and subsequent investments of $50.
The WAG fund will be a no-load fund, meaning the investor pays no up-front commission, but it will contain several charges that have begun appearing in mutual funds. One is called a "contingent deferred" charge. That means that the investor pays a fee of from 6 percent to 1 percent if he withdraws his money within the first six years. The fee drops by 1 percentage point each year. Then there is the "distribution fee," of 1.25 percent a year, which goes for commissions and advertising costs. Finally, there is the management fee, in this case 0.7 percent a year.
The Johnston, Lemon fund will carry an up-front load of 5 percent, a "distribution fee" of 0.25 percent and a management fee of 1 percent.
The president of the Growth Fund of Washington will be Harry J. Lister, who also is head of the Washington Mutual Investors Fund, a $700-million fund associated with Johnston, Lemon. Lister said that it was too early to name the stocks that would be selected for the Growth Fund but there would be some similarity to the companies in the Johnson, Lemon Index.
The $1 million in startup money for the WAG fund was provided by Acacia, whose chairman, Duane B. Adams, is a booster of the Washington area as a good place to live and a profitable place to do business. "We've been following regional firms for 10 years," said Adams. The Acacia portfolios have long included leading Washington-area issues, he noted.
Adams has put his own money behind his bullish sentiment. He currently owns three area stocks, Computer Entry Systems, Riggs National Bank and Perpetual American Bank. Since Jan. 1, Computer Entry is up 78.1 percent, Riggs is up 89.5 percent and Perpetual American is up 66.3 percent.
One feature of the new WAG fund portfolio is that most of the 14 stocks -- especially the larger companies -- are selling at or near their five-year highs. That doesn't worry Clorety, who has been working in the investment field for 16 years. "These companies have had high prices before," he said, "but the fundamentals justify them."
The goals of the new funds devoted to Washington-region stocks are similar to those of the recently formed Southeastern Fund, established by Wheat, First Securities Inc. of Richmond. That fund covers a "universe" of 365 companies operating in a 13-state region. From that group, 30 stocks were chosen. The fund closed its initial offering period in April with $18.5 million.
More and more, it seems, the sleuths who search for stocks that represent good value are finding it's good business for investors to do business close to home.
Continental Federal Savings Bank of Fairfax, which recently went public at $9 a share, closed Friday at $13.25. The thrift, operating under the umbrella of CFS Financial Corp., is headed by Allan R. Plumley Jr., president and chief executive officer. Previously known as Continental Federal Savings and Loan, the institution was the result of the 1982 merger of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Arlington and Arlington-Fairfax Savings and Loan Association. Continental, which coverted to public ownership by selling 2.18 million shares, raised $19.6 million.
A dozen Washington-area financial institutions are included on the list of 100 companies that make up the new "NASDQ-Financial Index," established by the National Association of Securities Dealers for the purpose of trading options. If it wins approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, options trading would begin in August. Area companies that will be part of the index include American Security Corp., Central Fidelity Banks, Dominion Bankshares Corp., First Maryland Bancorp, Maryland National Corp., Mercantile Bankshares Corp., Perpetual American Bank, Riggs National Corp., Sovran Financial Corp., Suburban Bancorp, USLICO Corp., and United Virginia Bankshares.