The stock market crash is behind us and a recession may lie ahead. For the intrepid investor, the challenge is to find stocks that can survive the nervousness of the market, the prospect of a business downturn and even rising interest rates.
Are there such stocks?
Yes, say the analysts who specialize in Washington area companies. Here are some area analysts with the stocks they think can survive and even prosper in 1988:
Eliot H. Benson, research director, Ferris & Co., Washington. Benson is optimistic about the economy. Believing that a recession can be avoided and interest rates will not rise sharply, Benson favors the stocks of local banks and thrifts -- especially Riggs National Bank of Washington, MNC Financial of Baltimore and Sovran Financial of Norfolk.
"These stocks have been heavily sold and are still severely depressed," Benson said.
Riggs, at $20.25 a share, is particularly attractive, Benson said. The stock is down from its high of $33.75. The bank's profits took a beating in 1987 because of its foreign loan problems, but Benson expects 1988 earnings to rise to $2.50 to $2.75 a share, which would bring Riggs back to a "normal" return on equity of 11.5 percent, he said.
Benson said the stock is selling at 8 percent below its book value of $22.18 a share. He thinks the stock could move back to the $30 area.
Riggs also looks attractive as a takeover candidate, Benson said. Acknowledging that Chairman Joe L. Allbritton has said he intends to remain independent, Benson said that Riggs might be tempting to "other financial institutions that would like to achieve a stronger position in Washington."
Charles T. Akre Jr., research director, Johnston, Lemon & Co. Akre is not optimistic about the economy. He predicts the economic climate will deteriorate, leading to higher interest rates and accelerating inflation. "Investors will be well served to be in the very best quality businesses," he said.
Akre said his definition of a good business includes Avemco Corp. of Frederick, Md., Geico Corp. of Washington and The Washington Post. Avemco and Geico are both insurance companies. Geico specializes in automobile and home insurance while Avemco insures private planes and has recently expanded into the pleasure boat market.
Avemco's boating sales were only $400,000 in 1987, the year the firm entered the field, but Akre expects the company to collect $6 million in 1988. The boating market is so big that if Avemco captures only 2.5 percent of the business, Akre said, Avemco's total revenue would double.
Akre foresees increased profits this year at Avemco, Geico and the Post. "All three have niche businesses that don't depend on what happens in the economy," he said.
Avemco closed Friday at $18.75, down from its recent high of $25.25. Geico closed at $110.25. It had been as high as $136.75. The Post finished the week at $190, having been up as high as $269.
May G. O'Leary, analyst, Baker, Watts & Co., Baltimore. O'Leary, who follows high-tech and defense stocks, sees good potential in American Management Systems of Arlington, which provides computer services. Now selling at $13.63, down from its high of $19.88, AMS will see its earnings grow from an estimated 70 cents in 1987 to 95 cents in 1988 and $1.25 in 1989, O'Leary predicts. The profit surge, she thinks, could take AMS shares to the high $20s.
Somewhat riskier but with perhaps greater upside potential, O'Leary said, is Radiation Systems of Sterling, Va., a firm that designs high-tech antennas. RADS has had problems keeping its profits up, but the company has a $59 million contract backlog that should begin to turn into profits this year, O'Leary said. At $8.38 a share, the stock is selling below its $9.50 book value. "There's very little downside risk in the stock," O'Leary said.
Joseph A. Clorety III, portfolio manager, Washington Area Growth Fund. Clorety is a fan of Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association). Once highly sensitive to changes in interest rates, Fannie Mae has become increasingly protected because of major increases in its fee income, better hedged portfolios and better balances between assets and liabilities, Clorety said. Moreover, Clorety expects recent changes in accounting rules to improve the quality and predictability of Fannie Mae earnings. Clorety said the stock has a chance to be a "very good performer" in 1988.
Clorety likes the potential of Polk Audio of Baltimore, an electronics retailer. The stock is selling at $5.50, slightly above its $4.15-a-share book value. Polk had $17 million in sales in 1987, but its stock price lost 63 percent. Clorety thinks that electronic sales will be better than first predicted after the crash. He also said he expects Polk to to move up to at least $8 a share by the end of the year, based on estimated improvements in earnings from 58 cents in fiscal 1987 to 75 cents in 1988 and 90 cents in 1989.
Michael L. Mead, analyst at Scott & Stringfellow, Richmond. Mead favors two stocks that he thinks can double. The "A" shares of Hechinger Co. of Landover can double in two years while the shares of Entre Computer of Vienna can double in one year, he said.
"What I like about Hechinger is the consistency of their earnings growth," said Mead, noting that the home center company has a long record of quarterly profit improvements. Hechinger also has been involved in a major expansion program. Even in a recession, Mead thinks, Hechinger would hold its own. When people cut back on travel and other activities, he said, they tend to stay home and fix up their houses.
"It's a stock you can sleep on," said Mead.
Of all the home center stocks he follows, Mead said, Hechinger is the only one that is 100 percent retail. The company attributes much of its success to the fact that half of its customers are women, he said.
Somewhat more risky, Mead said, is Entre Computer Centers, which is a turnaround situation. The stock rose 56 percent in 1987 and is selling at $4.13.
Once a sizzling issue, Entre slowed considerably when the computer industry went through a shakeout a few years ago. New management was brought in, but the firm faces heavy expenses for lawsuits with its franchisees. Mead expects Entre to earn 50 to 55 cents a share for its August 1988 fiscal year. If Entre can get its legal costs under control, the earnings could rise to 85 cents a share for the 1989 year, Mead said.
Steve Newby of Koonce Securities, Rockville. Newby, who has developed a reputation as a finder of undiscovered stocks, likes the outlook for Reisterstown Federal Savings Bank, located in the rapidly growing suburban area northwest of Baltimore. The thrift went public last February at $9 a share and, unlike many financial stocks, is now selling near its high.
The shares closed the week at $14.50, which is 34 percent under its book value of $22 a share. With $4 a share in profits for 1987, Newby thinks the stock could rise to at least book value -- which will be about $24 by the end of the year, he said.
To protect against interest rates changes, Reisterstown sells off its fixed-rate loans and keeps its variable-rate loans. However, the thrift's new business could be affected if interest rates soar, Newby said.
One older, larger stock Newby thinks has new potential is Computer Data Systems of Rockville, a 20-year-old firm that enjoyed a long period of rapid growth and then reached a plateau for a while. Profits for the first half of the 1988 fiscal year rose sharply, and Newby looks for a full-year profit of $1.20 a share compared to 61 cents for the year earlier. If this happens, Computer Data could become a $17 or $18 stock by year's end, he said. The stock closed Friday at $10.50, near its high for the last 52 weeks.