There is a new star on the horizon in the high-tech world near Dulles International Airport these days. It's called Star Technologies Inc.
For a while, it looked as if Star might be slowly sinking in the west. But after a serious battle for profitability, there is hope that Star eventually will be able to rise in the financial heavens.
Among the optimists is Herbert S. Shaw, the new boss at the computer maker in Sterling, Va. In his 1986 message to stockholders, Shaw wrote:
"Star's future is bright. The company has shown its resilience in the face of adversity. Its products are being purchased by a list of blue-ribbon customers. With the increases in revenue the company is now experiencing, it should become profitable during the year."
That would be good news for shareholders who bought Star's stock at $9 a share when the company went public in December 1984 and have watched the price slide almost continually since then. The stock closed Friday at $2.63 a share.
Star makes computers that operate at extremely high speeds and can perform engineering and scientific tasks that are beyond the range of ordinary computers. For instance, Star computers do the imaging work for General Electric's coaxial tomography (CAT) scanners.
Star, founded in 1981 in Portland, Ore., became a Northern Virginia company only last fall when the firm, faced with financial difficulty, moved its headquarters to Sterling, site of the company's manufacturing operations.
As a start-up company, Star spent its first few years engaged in research. It shipped its first computer systems in July 1983. Sales in fiscal 1984 were nearly $6 million. They rose to $21 million in 1985 but fell off to $15 million for fiscal 1986.
Why did sales drop off?
During its early years, Star's strategy was to develop products for the seismic or oil exploration market, for the medical imaging market and for military and defense uses. But falling oil prices zonked the seismic exploration market, which had been Star's principal business, and the depressed state of the computer market added to the firm's woes.
All of these events had a nasty impact on Star's bottom line.
After losing $8 million (77 cents a share) in fiscal 1984 and another $8 million (70 cents) in 1985, Star lost a whopping $20 million ($1.49) in fiscal 1986, ending March 31.
To date, said Shaw, the company has lost $43.6 million and now has $26 million in debts.
A total of $50 million has been invested in the company, with $18 million coming from public investors, $32 million from private investors.
Shaw sees brighter days ahead. He is looking for fiscal 1987 sales to reach $38 million to $40 million and says company operations, at this point, are close to breaking even.
Shaw, 50, is Star's chairman, president and chief executive officer. An engineer, he spent 23 years as an executive with General Electric and later joined a venture capital business in Portland. One of the venture firm's early investments was in Star Technologies.
When Star's losses began to mount, Shaw came in to run the company. That was last November.
Shaw consolidated the company's operations, reduced expenses and trimmed the number of employes from 245 to 180. Lending institutions were persuaded to extend their loans, and Star gave some noteholders stock in the company in lieu of paying them interest.
Star's strongest financial support has come from General Electric, which invested about $2.3 million in the company and now holds $6 million of Star's convertible notes. Better yet, GE has agreed to buy $28.1 million worth of computers from Star.
Star's future hopes rest on several factors. The most significant may be the rapid growth of research-and-development business from the military and intelligence community. Star is working on several contracts related to the Strategic Defense Initiative -- more popularly known as "Star Wars."
As sales and revenue rise, Shaw said, he expects the company to hire additional workers, perhaps 20 or 30 in the coming months. That may include some of the people who were laid off, he said.
One of those who may be hired soon is a new chief executive officer. That would relieve Shaw of some of his day-to-day operational chores. Since he took over management of the firm, Shaw has been commuting to his home in Portland. He expects to retain his titles as chairman and president.
His immediate goal, Shaw said, is to put together "a couple of back-to-back quarters that are strong and meaningful."
Ordinarily, that would be called a turnaround. Shaw thinks it is better than that. "This is the first stage in a full recovery, as opposed to a turnaround," he said.
Dynalectron of McLean, a $640 million technical services and contracting company, is a candidate to move from its $17 price to the mid-$20s during the next few months, according to a forecast by Charles M. LaLoggia of Rochester, N.Y., author of a special situations newsletter. Beyond that, LaLoggia writes, "If the analysts' estimates for 1987 of at least $2 per share are anywhere near the mark, a price-earnings ratio of only 15 would make Dynalectron a $30 stock." LaLoggia noted that Dynalectron recently broke through its seven-year-old resistance level of $16 a share. He credits the move to Dynalectron's decision to curtail unprofitable operations and move from an emphasis on construction toward technical services.
Biotech Research Laboratories of Rockville will offer investors another 1.2 million shares of common stock later this month. The shares will sell at the then-current price of Biotech shares, which closed Friday at $7. At that level, the sale would produce $8.4 million, before commissions. After the offering, Biotech would have a total of 6.7 million shares outstanding.
Biotech has been in the spotlight recently because of its AIDS-related products and services, including a test to detect antibodies to the virus believed to cause AIDS. Biotech makes antibody tests that are marketed by E. I. Du Pont de Nemours Co. In a recent comparison, the Biotech tests reportedly had a higher accuracy rate than most of the tests developed by other manufacturers.
Shares of United Dominion Realty Trust of Richmond are "attractive for capital appreciation and income," according to analyst May G. O'Leary of Scott & Stringfellow. United Dominion is a qualified real estate investment trust that invests in income-producing real estate, including apartments and shopping centers. United Dominion is one of the 25 largest REITS in the country.
O'Leary said she believes that United Dominion shares could benefit from proposed revisions of the tax law.
Currently, REITS can avoid paying federal taxes if they distribute 90 percent of their taxable income to shareholders, and the new tax proposals would let REITS keep those benefits. But other real estate investments would lose many of their tax shelter advantages. That could increase investors' interest in REITS, O'Leary said.
O'Leary called United Dominion a growth-oriented stock and projected a total return of about 25 percent. She estimated that the price of the stock will rise from about $14 to about $16.50 a share, for a 17.8 percent increase, plus the current dividend yield of 6.9 percent. Total: 24.7 percent.
Dominion Resources Inc. says 19,200 customers have signed up to buy nearly $12 million in power-company common stock during 1986-87. The response makes this the biggest year yet for the DRI stock purchase plan, which began in 1980. Since then, more than 2.2 million shares originally worth $48.1 million have been bought by customers of Virginia Power, North Carolina Power, West Virginia Power and Virginia Natural Gas. Those shares are now valued at $75 million.
Dominion Resources said an earlier survey of its customers showed that about half of the participants never owned shares in any company. Customers enrolling in the new stock purchase plan are making an average monthly payment of $51.34. A total of 32,764 customers participated last year.