For 30 years, in bull markets and bear markets, Patrick C. Ryan sat at his trading desk, buying and selling stocks in Wash-ington area banks and thrifts.
"They were the safest investments ... the can-do, can't-miss stocks," Ryan declared.
"To skip from that point to what has happened in the last six months ... well, it's been shell shock," he said.
Indeed, it was only a few years ago, Ryan recalled, that major regional financial institutions were competing to buy Washington banks and thrifts at lofty prices. And the local stocks rose to meet those expectations.
Now, he said, he finds himself talking to clients, not about investments in bank stocks, but about speculation or good bets.
"We've gone from euphoria to the absolute pits," said Ryan, the president of Johnston, Lemon & Co., a Washington brokerage.
When the final trading bell of 1990 rang last week, it became clear that the year had brought Washington area investors far more losers than winners and that massive damage had been done to Washington's bank and thrift stocks.
Of the 27 financial stocks listed in the Washington Business stock table, all lost money. The losses suffered by financial stocks helped bring down the value of the indexes that measure the performance of the broad array of stocks in the Washington region. And in 1990, Washington area stocks performed much worse than the Dow Jones industrials and other broad market measures.
Two stocks became worthless when federal regulators took over Washington Bancorporation, parent of National Bank of Washington, and United Savings Bank in Virginia. Their demise, especially NBW's, the city's oldest bank, cost investors tens of millions of dollars.
Among the 27 stocks, the best performer was Central Fidelity Banks Inc. of Richmond. It lost only 14 percent, as its stock fell to $26.50 from $30.75.
The worst performer of the surviving institutions, Trustbank Savings F.S.B. of McLean, saw its shares fall 96 percent, when its stock price dropped to 22 cents from $6.
The year was full of shockers.
The stock of MNC Financial Inc., long considered one of the financial powerhouses in the Washington area, fell to $3.25 from $22.13, a loss of 85 percent.
MNC includes Maryland National Bank and American Security Bank, with assets of $25 billion.
Perpetual Financial Corp., the largest thrift operating in the Washington area, sank to 56 cents from $7.13, down 92 percent.
Riggs National Corp., which offered to buy back 2 million Riggs shares for $25 each several years ago -- and couldn't pry them all loose from investors -- had its stock drop to $8.75 from $21.25, a loss of 59 percent.
The sharp retreat of the financial shares was the end result of a massive collapse in the commercial real estate market in the Washington area. When the local economy slowed, many developers were unable to sell or rent their surplus buildings and thus were unable to pay their bank loans. The lending institutions, in turn, were forced to accept large losses and, as their profits vanished, their stocks plunged.
The bad news for the financial institutions came in waves, quarter after quarter, with profit-and-loss reports showing ever-larger losses attributable to troubled loans. Many Washington developers have found themselves scrambling to stay solvent.
It was not only a bad year for financial stocks, but many other Washington area stocks also performed poorly.
The Johnston, Lemon index of 30 local blue-chip stocks lost 28 percent in 1990. The 170 stocks in the Washington Business regional stock table lost 26 percent.
By comparison, the blue-chip Dow Jones industrials lost 4 percent and the Standard & Poor's 500 dropped almost 7 percent.
These figures showed the continuing divergence between the performance of stocks of major U.S. companies and the showing of the numerous small companies that make up the overall market.
Mutual funds that invest in Washington area stocks also fared poorly through the year.
The Southeastern Growth Fund, run by Wheat, First Securities of Richmond, gained 11 percent in the fourth quarter, while losing 11 percent for the year.
The Growth Fund of Washington, operated by Johnston, Lemon & Co., gained 6 percent in the fourth quarter but lost almost 20 percent for the year.
The Washington Area Growth Fund, run by the Calvert Group of Bethesda, lost 3 percent in the fourth quarter and fell 38 percent for the year.
The slowing Washington economy and troubles in the real estate industry found their way into the stocks of some of the area's stalwart companies.
The value of stock in Marriott Corp., which had 1989 sales of $7.5 billion, dropped to $10.50 from $33.38, a loss of 69 percent. Marriott was hurt by the slowdown in the hotel business and by the company's role in real estate.
Another major company that dropped into the minus column was MCI Communications Corp., of Washington. Its shares fell to $19.88 from $44, a loss of 55 percent.
The do-it-yourself Washington firm, Hechinger Co. of Landover, Md., saw its stock fall to $7.63 from $12.63, a loss of 40 percent. Hechinger's profits have been hurt in recent months by its rapid store expansion and by changes in the company's operations.
The Washington Post Co. stock fell 30 percent to $198 from $281.50. The Post Co. profits have been adversely affected by a drop in newspaper advertising.
Despite the widespread gloom, the Washington area did have some winning stocks. Among shares that began the year at more than $2, the Top 10 gainers were:
Mid-Atlantic Medical Services Inc. of Rockville, the stock of which climbed to $10.25 from $2.75, a gain of 273 percent. Mid-Atlantic operates MD-IPA, a health-maintenance organization that has been growing rapidly. With 250,000 members now, Mid-Atlantic expects that number grow to 320,000 by the end of 1991.
PHP Healthcare of Alexandria, another health-related stock, which gained 115 percent last year as its stock climbed to $16.63 from $7.75. PHP, which provides medical care to federal, state and local agencies, especially to the Department of Defense, has been seeing business growth as the military moves toward privatizing health care.
Alpha 1 Biomedicals Inc. of Washington, which gained 95 percent with a move to $2.50 from $1.28. Alpha 1's stock climbed after announcing it was part of a joint venture to begin testing of a potential AIDS vaccine.
General Kinetics Inc. of Rockville, which continued its upward movement, gaining 79 percent on top of a 167 percent gain last year. The stock closed at $10.75, after starting the year at $6. General Kinetics is a metal fabrication company that found new life in making secure facsimile machines for military and intelligence agencies.
Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. of Joppa, Md., a solid retail performer in 1990, as in earlier years, saw its stock climb to $25.25 from $14.72, a gain of 72 percent. Merry-Go-Round is an expanding national clothing retailer.
Allied Research Corp. of Severna Park, whose stock rose to $3.25 from $2, up 63 percent. The company manufactures ammunition and weapons systems. The company's longtime chairman, Marvin B. Ruffin, died in November.
Penril Corp. of Gaithersburg, now called Penril DataComm Networks Inc., which continued a turnaround that began last year. As profits rose and debt loads fell, Penril stock went up to $8.75 from $5.31, a gain of 65 percent.
American Management Systems Inc. of Arlington, which bounced back from a bumpy 1989, gained 61 percent. Its stock moved up to $18.13 from $11.25. The company has long been one of Washington's top computer services firms, serving both government and business.
Smithfield Foods Inc. of Smithfield, Va., which also bounced back from a down year in 1989, had its share price climb to $19.75 from $12.25, a gain of 61 percent. Smithfield is a major supplier of meat products.
Survival Technology Inc., a small Bethesda medical supply company, whose stock climbed to $12.75 from $8.25, up 55 percent. The stock had gone as high as $14.50 in August after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. One of the company's products is an antidote for poison gas.
On the 1990 loser's list, counting stocks that opened the year at more than $2, the 10 leading laggards were:
NVR LP of McLean, a major home-building company that has been battered by the downturn in the real estate markets and by the financial problems flowing from the slowdown. NVR's once high-flying stock dropped to 31 cents from $5, a loss of 94 parent. NVR announced recently that it had enough working capital to last while it negotiates with its lenders for a line of credit.
Iverson Technology Corp. of McLean, which dropped to 31 cents from $3.63, down 92 percent.
Tempest Technologies Inc. of Herndon, whose shares fell to 34 cents from $2.13, a loss of 84 percent.
Iverson and Tempest -- both companies specialized in modifying computers to prevent electronic eavesdropping -- found themselves on the losers list for the third year in a row, as they were victims of declining Defense Department orders.
W. Bell & Co., the Rockville-based catalogue-showroom discounter, which joined the penny-stock parade when it dropped to 38 cents from $3.19, a loss of 88 percent. Bell recently entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
Jiffy Lube International Inc. of Baltimore, the oil change franchise operation that suffered heavy losses in recent years and underwent a major reorganization and a 10-to-1 reverse split, which put its start-of-the year price at $18.75. It closed the year at $3.50, down 81 percent.
Microlog Corp. of Germantown, Md., which only a year ago was enjoying a sales boom and first place on the winners list with a stock gain of 246 percent. Microlog, which produces voice-message systems, has seen its profits turn to losses and its stock fall to $1.81 from $9.50, a loss of 81 percent. Chairman J.G. Hartwell said the company was not able to develop a national distribution system and noted that sales to major customers fell sharply.
USF&G Corp., a Baltimore-based insurance firm struggling with poor conditions in the commercial property-casualty market. Its investment portfolio has been hurt by the slide in the high-risk, high-yield junk bond market and by losses in real estate. The stock fell to $7.50 from $29, a loss of 74 percent.
Systems Center Inc. of Reston, a company that develops software for International Business Machines Corp. mainframe computers and has been reporting losses. Its stock dropped to $5.50 from $20.88, a loss of 74 percent.
Data Measurement Corp. of Gaithersburg, which makes computerized measurement systems for industry, has had an erratic profit and loss picture. It reported new losses recently and its stock dropped to $1.75 from $6.50, down 73 percent.
Versar Inc. of Springfield, an environmental service company that has seen business slow, principally in the area of Environmental Protection Agency contracts, which account for 25 percent of Versar's business. The firm has been seeking to increase its work in the commercial and industrial sectors. Its stock dropped to $2.13, from $7, a loss of 70 percent.