Bear markets are tough times for stock pickers. Stocks that should go up, go down instead. And stocks that seem cheap tend to get cheaper. But that did not prevent Washington area analysts from giving us the 1991 stocks they think can survive or even prosper in tough times. Here they are:
Kenneth M. Gassman Jr., retail analyst, Wheat, First Securities, Richmond. Gassman is sold on Hechinger Co. and Giant Food Inc. Hechinger, he said, is trading near its five-year lows but really is in the midst of a business turnaround. Giant Food, whose stock has been virtually flat this year, is a steady performer that seems to prosper in good times and bad. Since there are no truly "safe stocks," Gassman said, he rates Giant Food a "relatively safe stock" for conservative investors. It is trading at $28.50.
At Hechinger, Gassman expects another gloomy quarterly report that will leave the do-it-yourself company with earnings of 84 cents a share for the year ending January 1991. That would be down from 88 cents last year. But Gassman is forecasting $1 a share for next year. Hechinger, which has been expanding rapidly, will begin to see more stability in its profit margins, he said. Hechinger, he noted, is trading at $7.50, well under its $11.26 book value per share. (Book value is assets minus liabilities divided by shares outstanding).
Michael D. Bulger, equity analyst, Johnston, Lemon & Co., Washington. The business of companies that offer health-care services in the Baltimore-Washington area grew by 9 percent in the first nine months of this year, Bulger said. But half of that growth went to one company, Mid Atlantic Medical Services Inc. of Rockville, which operates MD-IPA, a health-maintenance organization.
Mid Atlantic, which now has about 250,000 members, will see that number grow to about 320,000 by the end of 1991, Bulger said. For that and other reasons, Bulger boosted his earnings estimate for 1990 to 58 cents from 56 cents. For 1991, he has moved up to 80 cents from 76 cents. Mid Atlantic has been a fast-moving stock that came up from $2.50 during the year. The shares closed Friday at $9.25.
Daniel Abramowitz, president, Hillson Financial Management, Hyattsville. A money manager, Abramowitz says he is "very negative" on the stock market and the economy and doesn't expect to see strong performances from stocks. But he believes that Maryland Federal Savings & Loan Association (Maryland Federal Bancorp) and Dart Group Corp. are extremely good values at current prices and worth accumulating for the future.
Maryland Federal is one of the healthier thrifts, trading at $7 a share, with a book value of $18.70 a share and 90 percent of its loans in home mortgages in this area.
Dart Group, operated by the Haft family, owns Crown Books, Trak Auto and half of Shoppers Food Warehouse. Dart shares are trading at $70.50, about half of the firm's book value of $149 a share. Moreover, he said, Dart's cash and marketable securities, less its debt, represents a value of $123 a share. He expects the company, which earned $6.25 a share in fiscal 1989, ending in January, to earn $6.75 this year and $7 to $7.10 next year.
Steve Newby, president of Newby & Co., Rockville. Stock picker Newby thinks 1991 will be good to Survival Technology Inc., a small Bethesda-based medical supply company, and Columbia First Bank, a thrift headquartered in Arlington.
Since the death of its founder, Dr. Stanley J. Sarnoff, Survival Technology has undergone significant changes that have put more emphasis on the bottom line, Newby said. The company, which makes antidotes for poison gas, saw its business rise sharply after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
But Newby said he is less interested in the antidote sales, which he figures are only temporary, than in the growing sales of other products. He estimates that Survival Tech, which lost 12 cents a share in fiscal 1990, ending July 31, will earn $1.25 to $1.50 in fiscal 1991. The shares, which got as high as $14.50 in August, dropped back to $6.38 and have now returned to $13.25.
On Columbia First, Newby thinks the stock, selling at $4 a share, could reward a patient investor. The thrift's book value, he notes, is $16 a share. Columbia First, Newby notes, has had problem loans and lost $2.9 million in fiscal 1990, ending Sept. 30. But the thrift, which has 87 percent of its loans in home mortgages, could see a profit this coming year, he said.
Benjamin Peress, analyst at Ferris Baker Watts Investment Management, Washington. Peress is looking ahead to the end of 1991 when he thinks the recession will end and the economy and the stock market will turn around. Local companies best positioned to benefit from the turnaround, he said, are Fannie Mae, otherwise known as Federal National Mortgage Association, and The Washington Post Co.
Fannie Mae, he said, will benefit from lower interest rates and from its ability to match its interest costs and expenses. The downside is related to questions about the financial soundness of firms that enjoy quasi-government backing. However, Fannie Mae is well-positioned to survive any questions raised in Congress, he said. Peress suggests that 1990 earnings of about $4.45 will rise to $5 or $5.25 in 1991. Fannie Mae shares closed Friday at $35.
A strengthing economy, Peress predicted, will boost advertising linage at the Post, where advertising fell 10 percent during the first nine months of this year. Post stock, which reached a high of $311 last October, closed Friday at $200.50.
Joseph A. Clorety III, president, Clorety & Co., Gambrills, Md. Black & Decker is still a Clorety favorite, although it did not make the progress this year that he hoped for. Clorety believes the company has begun to see benefits from its merger with Emhart Corp. of Hartford, Conn. but he noted Black & Decker is having difficulty selling off some of the divisions it doesn't want. He estimated that the company, which earned 51 cents a share in 1989, will see earnings rise to $1.15 for 1990 and to $1.70 for 1991. Profits, he added, continue to be trimmed by 70 cents to $1 a year by the debt the firm took on to buy Emhart.
Black & Decker shares, which have traded in a $8 to $20.375 range, closed Friday at $9.125.
Clorety also said he likes the extremely low price -- less than $2 -- of Insituform East, a company that repairs sewer pipes without digging them up. Insituform recently reported a slide in profits because its normal flow of work from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission was interrupted. The company also has had unfavorable publicity linked to the indictment of its president on insider trading charges. But even with all that, Clorety said, the stock is cheap compared to the potential profits of the business.
Michael L. Mead, analyst, Legg Mason Inc., Baltimore. Mead said he is intrigued by the opportunity at James River Corp., a Richmond-based paper company. The firm, which will have estimated sales of $4.7 billion next year, is reorganizing its operations and Mead believes that higher profits will result. The stock, which has been trading in a $18 to $29 range, closed Friday at $26.375, near the firm's $26.60-a-share book value.
Mead also likes the outlook for United Dominion Realty Trust of Richmond, which specializes in undervalued apartment houses. The weak economic environment is slowing apartment demand, he said, but he thinks the company's cash flow, now flat, will pick up. And he likes the 8.6 percent dividend yield on the $14.50 share price.
Lew Sosnowik of Koonce Securities, Rockville. The veteran bank stock trader likes Allied Capital Corp. of Washington, a venture capital firm. With banks unable or unwilling to make business loans, Sosnowik said, Allied Capital has many potential borrowers to choose from. So Allied can pick the best companies and be well rewarded. Allied Capital, which has traded in a $14 to $19 range closed Friday at $14.
Taking a bite of an unlikely stock, Sosnowik said he was intrigued by the low price of Vie de France Corp., whose croissants sell at $1.09 each while its stock sells at 54 cents a share. That relationship, Sosnowik suggested, could be used in a new financial ratio. Instead of a price-to-earnings ratio, or PE, Vie de France could use a PC ratio -- price-to-croissant ratio. Sosnowik said he thinks the company eventually will have to get out of the restaurant business and stick to its baking because, naturally, that's where the bread is.