We called it Vepco for so many years -- it always rhymed nicely with Pepco -- that it's sometimes hard to remember to call it Dominion Resources. But that's the present name for the Richmond holding company that runs Virginia Power and provides electric service for nearly 4 million people in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. A powerhouse company, indeed.
Dominion Resources' $22 million investment portfolio, made up chiefly of preferred stock and real estate, earns an annual return of more than 12 percent. O. J. Peterson III, the chief financial officer at Dominion Resources, thinks it can do better by opening up some ambitious avenues of investment.
"The utility business in the last 10 to 15 years has not been an area where you could earn the highest returns," Peterson said. "So we're diversifying in a small way into areas that produce higher returns."
As a first step, Dominion Resources recently shelled out $40 million to buy Rincon Securities of New York, which had been owned by a subsidiary of Tucson Electric Power Co. of Arizona. Buying Rincon gave Dominion access to a portfolio of securities -- mostly preferred stock -- in 158 U.S. corporations. The stock is worth considerably more than $40 million, said Peterson, but Rincon had some debt, as well. So they negotiated and agreed on $40 million.
Dominion Resources paid cash for Rincon, taking the money from the $100 million a year the utility earns by selling stock to employes and to stockholders enrolled in its dividend reinvestment plan.
As a second step, Dominion Resources created a subsidiary called Dominion Capital, which will oversee the utility's investments. Dominion Capital has been patterned after Potomac Capital Investment Corp., which was created in 1983 by Potomac Electric Power Co. Potomac Capital has a $324 million portfolio invested in preferred stocks, mutual funds, money market funds and several interesting equipment leasing deals.
Potomac Capital owns pieces of two communications satellites and holds part interests in two Boeing 747-300s that are leased to airlines.
Peterson said Dominion Capital will consolidate the utility's current $22 million portfolio with the $40 million in Rincon securities for a total of $62 million. The utility also expects to add money to the portfolio. "We expect to grow it each year by $10 million to $20 million," he said. That could make the utility's portfolio "quite significant" in a few years, he said.
Peterson's goal is to achieve a rate of return above 15 percent a year, twice the current rate for short-term investments. He thinks they can do it.
The utility's ideas for expansion include a new foray into commercial paper, which is short-term debt issued by businesses. It also has a plan to help corporations capture stock dividends.
The utility already sells its own commercial paper to businesses in this region, Peterson noted, and generally has about $100 million in circulation. He hopes to begin selling other companies' commercial paper, a plan that might boost the utility's business to $300 million.
The utility also plans to offer other corporations access to its dividend capture plan, which could grow to another $300 million, Peterson said.
Under that plan, Peterson said, you buy common stocks shortly before dividends are to be issued and sell them quickly afterwards, usually within 45 days.
"You want to buy late and sell as soon as possible," he said.
To help protect against market losses, he will sell options on the stocks, Peterson said.
Peterson believes that he will be able to achieve a 14 percent return on the dividend capture plan, about double the current return on short-term investments. It is a plan especially suited for corporations, which can exclude from taxes 85 percent of the money they receive in dividends.
As a result, Peterson said, Dominion Capital may be able to compete for the cash management funds of corporations.
In time, Peterson said, the utility would take a look at the satellite-airplane type investments that attracted Potomac Capital.
Peterson said he likes the Potomac Capital approach. "They're ahead of us. But we'd like to catch up."
Greater Washington Investors of Chevy Chase, which makes venture capital investments in small, developing companies, has won an endorsement from the prestigious National Association of Investors Corp. However, the optimism about the stock's potential is somewhat qualified. "Greater Washington Investors is for investors seeking capital gains," writes Ralph L. Seger Jr., of the NAIC. "Income is uncertain and small. The stock is very high-risk and should be bought by investors who are in a position to assume high risk. The price of the stock is very volatile, a function of both its rapid rate of growth and the companies in its portfolio."
NAIC feels that GWI stock, selling at $7.25, is "not dirt cheap but good value," and notes that "if the market takes a major dive in the next year, the investor should definitely average down." Looking at GWI's growth pattern, NAIC predicts that the stock could rise to $22.79 in five years, with a downside risk of $4.
United Dominion Realty Trust of Richmond is considered an attractive stock for "long-term capital appreciation and income" by analyst May G. O'Leary of Scott & Stringfellow in Richmond. United Dominion was created a year ago by the merger of Old Dominion Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) and Realty Industries. It is one of the 25 largest REITs in the country, with $100 million in real estate assets. United Dominion specializes in older, under-leased apartments and shopping centers. With a 52-week trading range of $10.25 to $14.50, the stock closed Friday at $13.50. O'Leary expects cash flow per share, the normal measure for equity real estate performance, to rise from 87 cents in 1984 to an estimated 98 cents in 1985 and $1.15 in 1986. Although cash-flow growth has been lagging somewhat, O'Leary said, she expects it to run at an above-average figure of 15 percent for the next several years.
Netword, the tiny Riverdale, Md., company that faced near-disaster when the Postal Service decided to give up its E-COM mail system, says it has bought a big chunk of the E-COM computer hardware and mail processing equipment formerly used in several major cities. Before the Postal Service decided to get rid of E-COM, Netword was building up a nice business providing customers with mail services tied to the E-COM system. The purchase gave Netword about $6 million worth of hardware and software for about $200,000. The equipment will enable Netword to directly control its entire mail production system. Mail will be delivered to a major postal sectional center for national distribution. Netword, whose stock once sold for as much as $2.88, is trading for 34 cents a share.
What a difference a year makes. A year ago, at this time, Perpetual American Bank, based in Alexandria, was reporting a $2 million loss for fiscal 1984. At that point, the thrift had been in the red for five out six years. Now, 12 months later, Perpetual American has reported a profit of $21.1 million ($2.95 a share). While the earnings got a good boost from real estate sales, the profit was higher than anticipated. Meanwhile, investors who had tagged Perpetual American a year ago as being a "hot stock" turned out to be right. The share price rose from about $8.75 a share last November to a high of $25 this year. The stock closed Friday at $23.50.
Steve Norwitz, who handles press relations at T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, writes much of the copy for The Price Report, a newsletter for T. Rowe Price investors. In a recent issue, Norwitz described some of the nicknames that bond traders attach to their wares, names that conjure up images of James Bond, Bo Derek and others. "In the bond trader's vernacular," he wrote, "a '007' is simply a U.S. Treasury bond that matures in the year 2007. Similarly, a 'Bo Derek' bond, like the actress, is a perfect 10; it features a 10 percent coupon and matures in the year 2010. There are also 'Gay Nineties' (maturing in 1990) and 'Centuries' (maturing in the year 2000)."