The Ryland Group Inc., the region's largest home builder and one of the biggest in the nation, said its fourth-quarter earnings rose 18.7 percent, driven by record home building and improved performance by its financial services division.

The Columbia-based company, which is moving its corporate headquarters to Southern California, said fourth-quarter net income was $20.8 million ($1.40 a share) on revenue of $595.6 million. That compared with net income of $17.6 million ($1.12) on revenue of $541.1 million in the year-earlier period.

For all of 1999, the company earned $66.7 million ($4.30) on revenue of $2 billion, compared with $40.3 million ($2.58) on revenue of $1.77 billion. Excluding nonrecurring charges for the impending relocation of the corporate office to Southern California, earnings per share in 1999 were $4.43.

Ryland had the highest fourth-quarter and annual home sales in the company's history--2,237 homes for the quarter and 10,408 homes for the year.

* Potomac Electric Power Co. reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $8.2 million, compared with a loss of $300,000 in the three months ended Dec. 31, 1998.

The company said the higher loss in the fourth quarter of 1999 resulted from build-up costs for its StarPower joint venture and development costs for Pepco Energy Services on the unregulated side of the business.

Pepco said that it earned $247.1 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 1999 ($1.98), up from a net profit of $226.3 million ($1.73) a year earlier.

* Columbia Energy Group said its net income in the fourth quarter was $95.4 million ($1.16) on total net revenue of $609.3 million, compared with net income of $87.7 million ($1.05) on total net revenue of $535.4 million for the year-earlier period.

For all of 1999, the Herndon energy company said its net income was $249.2 million ($3.01) on revenue of $1.99 billion, compared with net income of $269.2 million ($3.21) on revenue of $1.86 billion in 1998.

* MicroStrategy Inc. of Vienna said its net income in the fourth quarter was $3.8 million (9 cents) on revenue of $69.4 million, compared with net income of $2.8 million (7 cents) on revenue of $35.7 million in the same period of 1998.

For all of 1999, the company had net income of $12.6 million (29 cents), compared with net income of $6.2 million (16 cents) in 1998. Revenue for the data mining and enterprise management company in 1999 soared 93 percent to $205.3 million.

* Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc., the Arlington investment banking firm, reported that gains in the value of its investments in start-up technology firms gave the company its best quarter in nearly two years.

For the last three months of 1999, FBR's revenue grew 255 percent to $67.6 million from $19.1 million in the same period a year earlier, producing a profit of $10.2 million (21 cents a share), compared with a year-earlier loss of $3.8 million.

For the year, revenue was up 13 percent to $139 million, from $122.9 million, and the company's loss fell to $7 million from $16.2 million.

The last time the local investment firm had such a strong quarter was in the first three months of 1998 when its business of managing new stock offerings was hot. When that business cooled, producing big losses, FBR restructured to emphasis technology venture capital, which produced more than half of its revenue in the latest quarter.

* Halifax Corp., an Alexandria information technology firm, earned $2.8 million ($1.39 a share) on revenue of $19.8 million during its third quarter ended Dec. 31, but most of the net income was the result of a one-time, non-operating income resulting from an embezzlement-related settlement.

Revenue for the same period last year was $23.5 million, and the company posted a $1.9 million net loss.

The firm discovered a $15 million embezzlement scheme by a former employee last spring, and recovered $2.5 million in a settlement over the third fiscal quarter 2000.

Company officials said revenue declined because one large contract was completed and customer purchasing delays associated with Y2K issues.

* Celera Genomics of Rockville said it lost $24.3 million for the three months that ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of $8.6 million for the same period a year earlier.

Celera is a start-up biotechnology company in the midst of unraveling the entire human genetic code. The stock has skyrocketed in recent weeks even though the company expects to continue losing money for some time.

The quarter ending Dec. 31 was the second quarter of Celera's 2000 fiscal year. For the first six months of that fiscal year, the company lost $43.7 million, compared with a loss of $12.2 million for the same period a year earlier.

Celera is a wholly owned unit of PE Corp. of Norwalk, Conn., and is represented on the New York Stock Exchange by a "tracking stock" that trades under the symbol CRA.

* Black & Decker Corp., the Maryland power-tool maker, said its fourth-quarter net income rose 26 percent on holiday-season sales in North America.

Net income in the quarter rose to $115.1 million ($1.31 a share) on revenue of $1.35 billion, compared with net income of $91.6 million ($1.03) on revenue of $1.27 billion in the same period of 1998.

For all of 1999, Black & Decker earned $300.3 million ($3.40) on revenue of $4.52 billion, compared with a loss of $754.8 million ($8.22) on revenue of $4.56 billion in 1998. The company had more than $1 billion in special charges in 1998.

The company said it expects per-share earnings to increase 15 percent this year.

CAPTION: Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc.

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