Beverly Enterprises went acquisition crazy in the 1980s. And as a result, the nursing home operator was drowning in debt before the decade was over. But unlike so many other companies, Beverly seems to be doggy-paddling its way out of danger.

And Wall Street is rewarding the company with a higher stock price and favorable recommendations. After all, say investment experts, how can you not applaud a company that's willing to move its headquarters from Pasadena, Calif., to cut-rate digs in Fort Smith, Ark.?

"It's a company that was ugly and is becoming a little less ugly," said David Saks of Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc. "They are turning it around."

After living through rumors of an impending filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (which never happened), Beverly is seeing its stock climb steadily. Early this year, the company sold 10 million shares to the public at $4.50 apiece. Nowadays, Beverly's shares are selling for closer to $7.

Selling securities to the public has been Beverly's salvation, and analysts believe there will be more in the future. The company's turnaround has been so surprising to Wall Street, in fact, that some in the investment community seem to be withholding their enthusiasm until they become more convinced that the improvement is for real.

"I think they are pulling out from under the debt load," said Lawrence Marsh of Wheat First Securities Inc. of Richmond. He added that the long-term outlook for the company has improved. Still, Marsh is not recommending that his clients go out and buy Beverly stock.

Beverly's debt is currently around $400 million, about half of what it was at its peak. Not only has the company been successfully selling securities to the public, but new management has also been divesting some operations. The rest of the debt may soon be refinanced on more favorable terms, the experts believe.

While Beverly is still believed to be the biggest nursing home company in the country, it has already gotten rid of thousands of beds. The company has also reduced employment, including trimming layers of unnecessary management.

Since the bulk of Beverly's business is with Medicaid recipients who pay a fixed rate for care, reducing costs was the only practical way to improve margins.

Beverly started to be profitable again in the fourth quarter of last year, but the 1-cent-a-share earnings didn't bring much recognition. "People considered it a fluke," said Wedbush's Saks, who recommends purchase of the stock.

But Beverly's recent 8-cent-a-share profit for the 1990 third quarter and estimates that it will be profitable for the year are finally getting investors' attention.

Beverly Enterprises officials say they will continue to reduce debt, and they deny suggestions circulating on Wall Street that they may eventually borrow money to take this company private.

"We want to continue working on {improving} quality, reducing debt and improving profitability. We don't plan to expand," said Andre C.M. Dimitriadis, the company's chief financial officer.

Take it private? "I don't want to ever say never. But that's not what we are looking at," he said. "That would involve taking on more debt."

With the elections over, the financial markets are asking themselves, "What now?"

Many experts on Wall Street have had a feeling for the past several months that a lot of important decisions -- both economic and military -- were being put on hold so they wouldn't mess up the congressional elections. Those who hold that theory believe the post-election period could be a difficult one for the financial markets.

The votes were barely counted this past week before Wall Street started worrying about the Middle East. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44 points the day after the election.

"The winds of war are starting to blow again. The high-risk zone for military action is Election Day plus one to Thanksgiving minus a week," said Wall Streeter Jonathan Grovemen, president of Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co.

But Wall Street should have other concerns now that the politicians are safely in office. For one thing, many critics of government economic statistics believe that the true state of the nation's economy will become clearer -- and gloomier -- in the weeks to come.

While some argue that Washington has been massaging economic data to make the economy look brighter than it is, others simply believe that it now is in the government's best interest to paint the darkest picture possible.

The administration, after all, has been trying for months to convince the Federal Reserve Board to lower interest rates by a substantial amount. The Fed -- often throwing upbeat government economic statistics back in the face of the White House -- has refused, except for a tiny and useless rate cut in celebration of the government's deficit-reduction package.

The first two chances to see post-election economic data will come Tuesday and Wednesday, when the government is scheduled to release retail sales, industrial production and facility utilization statistics. Later in the month, the gross national product and the leading economic indicators will be released.

"Politicians don't want to talk about a recession before an election," said Michael Sherman, chief investment strategist for Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc.. Now, however, Sherman agrees that recession talk will become louder. And after the initial shock of such revelations, Sherman theorizes the financial markets will view the rhetoric positively since it may lead to lower interest rates.

Foreigners, however, have a different perspective. Carlos Castellanos, whose firm, Geoffrey Bell & Co., has many foreign clients, believes non-U.S. investors are concerned that the Fed will now feel free to do whatever it wants with interest rates.

And while Americans may want borrowing costs to come down, the amount of foreign investment that is fleeing this country could increase dramatically if the Fed does lower rates unilaterally. Castellanos believes that a substantial Fed easing could knock the already-stumbling U.S. dollar down another 10 percent. John Crudele is a columnist for the New York Post.