Even before the stock market reopened after last year's terrorist attacks, Washington investors started picking stocks that might benefit from what was to become the war on terrorism.
Shares of local defense contractors began moving up the day that trading resumed on Sept. 17. Most have maintained their momentum, earning millions -- even billions -- of dollars for investors who were savvy (or cynical) enough to buy them before the dust cleared.
Surprisingly, the "terror stocks" have not been the best local performers in the year since 9/11.
Only two of the top 20 stocks over the past 12 months are those of defense contractors -- Allied Research Corp. and CACI International Inc. Shares of Allied, an Arlington maker of artillery shells, gained 157 percent, making it the eighth-best performer among the 222 local stocks tracked by the Washington Post-Bloomberg regional stock index.
CACI, the Pentagon's favorite computer contractor, is up 77 percent, making it the 20th best performer. Lockheed Martin Corp. is right behind with a gain of 72 percent.
By and large the big winners since 9/11 are smaller companies, mostly in technology, that managed to turn around their businesses and resuscitate stock prices when stocks generally have fallen and tech shares have been hit particularly hard.
Most of those stocks have relatively small market capitalization. In terms of creating shareholder value, Lockheed Martin outdid everybody in town. Investors have made almost $13 billion in paper profits since 9/11 as the market value of the nation's biggest defense contractor climbed from about $17.4 billion to more than $30 billion.
The most surprising creator of shareholder value has been a stock that sank in the first week of trading after 9/11 -- NVR Inc., the Washington region's biggest home builder.
Trending down before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, NVR shares slid from about $156 a share on Sept. 10, 2001, to $131 a few days later. Investors apparently figured that the attacks on America's homeland would bring bad news on the home front.
What a bad call that turned out to be. The interest-rate cuts by the Federal Reserve to compensate for the economic damage done by the terrorists triggered one of the greatest housing booms ever. Aided by an aggressive stock buyback program, NVR shares have more than doubled in value, closing Friday at $325.30 a share.
Over the past 12 months, NVR generated about $1.2 billion in gains for shareholders -- a 109 percent return. Short-term traders probably did even better than that by selling NVR shares around the time they peaked at $388.25 in May.
Like shares of NVR, the stocks of most Washington companies recovered slowly from 9/11 and climbed steadily until last spring. The index of local stocks peaked at 186.04 on April 24 and then retreated relentlessly for the next three months, losing a third of its value by July.
Today the index is almost exactly where it was on the first day of trading after the attacks. The index was an even 149 then; it closed at 149.98 Friday.
Though the index has gone nowhere in the past 12 months, 95 of the 222 issues in the index are trading at higher prices today than they were before 9/11.
The big gainer is still Talk America Holdings Inc., the tiny Reston telephone company that was the top-performing local stock in the first half of this year. Talk America shares have fallen from $4.13 to $2.52 since the end of June but are still up 460 percent from Sept. 10, 2001, when they were trading for 45 cents each.
Talk America is one of three local stocks that have managed to defy one of Wall Street's unwritten rules: Once a stock falls below $1 a share, it never recovers.
Also back from the boneyard are shares of I.C. Isaacs & Co., a Baltimore maker of women's sportswear, which have climbed 405 percent from 37 cents to $1.87 and Varsity Group Inc., the Washington Internet bookseller turned college marketer whose shares gained almost 130 percent, from 54 cents to $1.24.
All three are still highly speculative stocks, but their ability to claw their way back above a buck during a down market is a tribute to their managements' perseverance and their shareholders' patience.
Patient stockholders also were rewarded by the managements of Bethesda's Hanger Orthopedic Group Inc., a company that services artificial limbs and other prosthetics, and Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, the Hampstead, Md., haberdasher. Both have done better than any defense stocks since 9/11, with Hanger up 411 percent and Bank up 296 percent.
Shares of Hanger, which is recovering from a costly restructuring, have climbed from $3.41 to $17.44 and hit a three-year high of $17.70 last week. Bank's shareholders are banking on earnings being boosted by the 13 stores opened so far this year, the 12 scheduled to open before the end of the year and the 30 planned for 2003. That stock is up from $5.53 to $21.92 since 9/11.
There are far more companies whose stocks have gone up despite 9/11 than because of it. And there are as many stocks whose decline can be attributed to 9/11 as there are stocks that have directly benefited.
US Airways Group Inc. is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of that day. Its stock has fallen from $11.62 a share to 66 cents. It has been kicked off the New York Stock Exchange and relegated to the over-the-counter bulletin board. Instead of the coveted single letter symbol U, it trades as UAWGQ, with the Q signaling its status as a company reorganizing under Chapter 11.
Shares of the region's half-dozen hotel real estate and hotel operating companies are off 20 to 40 percent because of the falloff in travel. Surprisingly, the stock of Choice Hotels International Inc. of Silver Spring is up 15 percent while shares of Marriott International Inc. are down 24 percent. Marriott's bread-and-butter business travel clients seem to have cut back more than the recreational travelers catered to by Choice's franchised brands.
The two biggest disappointments for investors speculating on terror stocks turned out to be Compudyne Corp., which makes blast-proof glass and other security systems, and Versar Inc., an environmental consulting firm.
Neither benefited as much from the war on terrorism as investors expected when they drove Versar stock from $2.10 to $6.20 and bid up Compudyne from $8.25 to $18.78. Versar is now back to $2.35, a gain of 12 percent; Compudyne is at $9.74, up 18 percent.
Double-digit gains during a down market are nothing to be ashamed of, but anybody who bought those stocks after mid-September probably lost money.
General Dynamics Corp. also disappointed investors who figured that if Lockheed Martin was going to benefit from the war on terrorism, then the region's second-largest defense contractor also ought to do well. General Dynamics shares are up only 9 percent, beating the market, but not expectations.
Five other stocks of government contractors also benefited from 9/11, but they do not show up in the 12-month performance rankings because they were not public companies when the attacks occurred.
Because of their defense contracts, however, all five were able to go public in the past year, when the initial public offering market was pretty much shut down.
Best known of the newcomers is United Defense Industries Inc. which is controlled by the Carlyle Group, Washington's biggest investment firm. United Defense makes armored vehicles and artillery pieces, most notably the Crusader, a self-propelled cannon that President Bush wants to kill.
United Defense went public last December at $19 a share and climbed to $29.85 before the big gun was declared obsolete even before it went into production. At $22.89, the stock is still up 20 percent from the IPO price.
Carlyle hoped to cash out on another of its defense investments by taking public a chain of shipyards it acquired under the name U.S. Marine Repair Inc. When the market softened, U.S. Marine instead was merged with United Defense.
The other four fresh defense IPOs are all government computer contractors, though they prefer to be called "information technology solutions" companies.
ManTech International Corp. of Fairfax went public in February at $16 a share and climbed to almost $26 before the market cracked in August. At $22.77, it is trading 42 percent above its offering price.
Anteon International Corp., also based in Fairfax, floated its IPO in March at $18 a share. The stock peaked at $26.75 and closed Friday at $24, up 33 percent from the offering price.
SRA International Inc. of Fairfax sold shares for $18 each in May. The stock climbed to $29.20 and now is at $27.75, up 54 percent since the IPO.
Veridian Corp. of Fairfax, the newest member of the new crop of Pentagon technology contractors, went public in June at $16 a share, bounced to $25.10 and closed Friday at to $23.56, up 47 percent.