<THE LUNCHTIME NEWS>
Tuesday, August 11, 1998
THE MARKET MIDDAY
DJIA 8363.21 -211.64 (-2.47%) S&P 500 1059.50 -23.64 (-2.18%) Nasdaq 1783.73 -55.48 (-3.02%) Value Line ndx 848.95 -23.32 (-2.67%) 30-Year Bond 107 29/32 +24/32 5.57% Yield
 

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FOOL PLATE SPECIAL
An Investment Opinion
by Alex Schay

Global Market Decline Revisited

World equity markets are in a slump. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index fell 1.40% largely on lack of confidence in a turnaround and the yen falling to an eight-year low against the dollar. Hong Kong equities nose-dived 3.62% to a five-year low, and German stocks are off 3.40%. Russia's main stock market index, the RTS, was down 11.01 points, or 9.11% -- slightly better since the end of a trading halt. And what of the usual problematic Asian suspects like Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines? Well, in that order, the Jakarta Composite is off 3.35%, the Kuala Lumpur Composite is down 5.26%, the Korean Composite was cut a slight 0.22%, the Thai Stock Exchange was clipped 1.75%, and the Philippines Composite was "Marcosed" 3.82%.

Buying pushed the yield on the 30-year bond to a historic low. The above documented drop in Asian markets, plummeting confidence in Japan's economy, and a major strengthening of the dollar to new eight-year highs against the Japanese yen prompted the latest flight to the "safe haven" of U.S. Treasuries. Is the situation in Asia getting worse? Let's just say if anybody were to go broke because of problems in East Asia, it would be Japanese banks -- and that's probably not going to happen considering the following: The "problem" countries in East Asia represent less than 4% of global international bank lending, and still only account for 6% of Japanese bank lending. If 30% of all the Japanese loans to Thailand and 15% of all the other loans to East Asian nations failed, the net effect would be a 1% drop in Japanese bank loan book (according to David Roche of Independent Strategy). What's the bottom line for the U.S.? Well, East Asian capital market crises generally result in higher risk premiums, higher interest rates, lower economic growth, and lower profit growth.

Yes, nothing new here, except the fact that U.S. growth in corporate profits continues to be incrementally lowered by the major institutions as a result of continued earnings impacts from Asia. Merrill Lynch, for instance, began the year with a top-down forecast of a 3% gain in S&P 500 operating earnings. In the second quarter, S&P 500 operating EPS was up just 2% from a year ago. Merrill recently lowered its top-down earnings estimates for 1998 by $1. This would bring its figure for S&P 500 operating earnings up just 1% to $45 this year, as cyclical sectors continue to get squashed. However, the 1999 estimate is unrevised at $48.50, implying a pickup in momentum to around 8% next year. Merrill believes that crummy growth will eventually lead to the Fed easing up on monetary policy. Now, predictions abound, but what is certain is that price changes track with business results. Investors that continue to focus on the business risk specifically associated with their companies will continue to do well in the long term.

UPS

Chicago-based oil, natural gas, and chemicals company Amoco Corp. (NYSE: AN) jumped $7 to $48 after agreeing to merge with British Petroleum (NYSE: BP) in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion, or $50 per Amoco share. British Petroleum added $4 1/8 to $80 1/8. The combined company, which will be called BP Amoco PLC, will be 60% owned by BP shareholders. Amoco shareholders will control the remaining stake.

Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS) popped up $6 3/16 to $60 1/2 after South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. said it has completed development of Rambus's 64-megabit in line memory module and has shipped samples of the device to Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and box makers Compaq (NYSE: CPQ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL). Samsung forecasts that the new module will eventually grab at least 50% of the market for dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, sending DRAM chip maker Micron Technology (NYSE: MU) down $1 11/16 to $31 7/16.

Paine Webber Group
(NYSE: PWJ) gained $2 3/8 to $47 3/8 after a German newspaper reported that Dresdner Bank has been discussing the possibility of acquiring the brokerage firm with PaineWebber executives for a few weeks.

Contract oil driller Cliffs Drilling Co. (NYSE: CDG) moved up $1 1/8 to $20 1/2 after agreeing to merge with offshore drilling rig operator R&B Falcon Corp. (NYSE: FLC). Under the deal, each Cliffs share will be exchanged for 1.7 shares of R&B stock. R&B Falcon fell $1 9/16 to $13 3/4.

Positron Fiber Systems
(Nasdaq: PFSCF), a Canadian designer of advanced broadband network access systems, moved up $1 9/16 to $1 15/16 after agreeing to be acquired by RELTEC Corp. (NYSE: RLT) for $13.625 per share in cash. RELTEC expects the deal will be slightly dilutive to its fiscal Q4 earnings per share but will be accretive in fiscal 1999.

Online advertising and marketing software firm NetGravity (Nasdaq: NETG) rose $3 1/8 to $19 7/16 after forming a co-marketing, service, and technology strategic relationship with PC and computing products maker IBM (NYSE: IBM).

If it's Tuesday, it must be Ohio. Signal Corp. (Nasdaq: SGNL) rose $4 1/16 to $32 1/16 this morning after agreeing to merge with fellow Buckeye State bank FirstMerit Corp. (Nasdaq: FMER) in a $470 million stock swap. The purchase price values Signal at $37.21 per share -- a 33% premium to its closing price of $28 per share yesterday.

Heart arrhythmia treatment device maker InControl (Nasdaq: INCL) picked up $11/32 to $5 5/8 after agreeing to a $6 per share cash buyout bid from pacemaker and medical device developer Guidant Corp. (NYSE: GDT). Guidant said it will take a $90 million one-time charge related to the deal.

Children's clothing maker OshKosh B'Gosh (Nasdaq: GOSHA) advanced $1 to $41 after setting a two-for-one stock split. The company also increased its quarterly Class A share dividend 42% to $0.10 per share and announced a plan to buy back up to $60 million of its Class A shares over the next two years.

Swedish appliance maker Electrolux AB (Nasdaq: ELUXY) rose $1 5/16 to $31 15/16 after reporting profits of $154 million in its fiscal second quarter, thanks to a pickup in demand for its products in Europe. A year ago, the company reported a Q2 loss due to charges related to a 10% reduction in its workforce.

Multifamily, retail, and office buildings real estate investment trust (REIT) Colonial Properties Trust (NYSE: CLP) tacked on $1 5/16 to $26 9/16 after Wheat First Union reiterated its "buy" rating on the stock.

Pharmaceutical contract research services and clinical trials management firm Parexel International Corp. (Nasdaq: PRXL) climbed $3 to $34 3/8 after reporting fiscal Q4 EPS of $0.22 versus $0.17 a year ago, which was in line with the Street's mean estimate. The company said orders increased 41% sequentially to $110 million during the quarter.

DOWNS

Major technology and banking stocks led the U.S. markets lower following sharp declines in Asian and European markets and a further drop in the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar as Japan said that its recession is deepening. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) fell $2 3/16 to $84 7/16, Dell Computer (Nasdaq: DELL) lost $3 15/16 to $106 5/16, IBM (NYSE: IBM) dropped $3 1/2 to $126 3/8, and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HWP) shed $1 15/16 to $49 5/16. In the banking arena, Citicorp (NYSE: CCI) tanked $8 to $144 1/2 as merger partner Travelers Group (NYSE: TRV) was cut $3 to $58 9/16, NationsBank (NYSE: NB) sank $3 3/16 to $70 3/4 while its merger partner BankAmerica (NYSE: BAC) pulled back $3 1/4 to $80 1/16, Mellon Bank (NYSE: MEL) lost $2 7/16 to $60 7/16, and J.P. Morgan (NYSE: JPM) sold off $3 13/16 to $116 3/8.

Internet portal company Lycos Inc. (Nasdaq: LCOS) slid $3 7/8 to $64 1/16 after announcing it will acquire directory and email services company WhoWhere? Inc. for $133 million in stock. Lycos' cohorts also pulled back with the market this morning: Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) fell $2 9/16 to $91 7/16; Excite (Nasdaq: XCIT) was down $1 1/2 to $44 1/4; Netscape Communications (Nasdaq: NSCP) dropped $1 3/8 to $29 13/16; America Online (NYSE: AOL) sank $5 3/4 to $107; and CNET (Nasdaq: CNWK) shed $1 3/8 to $44 7/8.

Aerospace and aircraft company Boeing (NYSE: BA) fell $1 5/8 to $37 5/8 after The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. State Department suspended the company's license to launch commercial satellites as part of a project known as Sea-Launch for security reasons. Boeing spokesman Dick Dalton said that resolving the issue could cause another delay in the $500 million project.

PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) lost $1 11/16 to $34 1/8 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter cut its earnings estimates for the beverage and snack company on account of slower growth in the company's Frito-Lay business. Morgan Stanley lowered its 1998 EPS estimate to $1.31 from $1.34 and 1999 estimate to $1.40 from $1.47, and reduced its price target to $42 from $50. Pepsi's nemesis Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) dipped $1 11/16 to $78 7/16.

Managed care provider United HealthCare (NYSE: UNH) was crippled for another $3 loss to $30 3/8 after yesterday calling off a proposed merger with Humana (NYSE: HUM) as United's stock price has fallen in the wake of its disclosure of a $900 million Q2 charge last week. Humana lost $1 5/16 to $16 5/8.

Prepaid telecommunications services company SmarTalk TeleServices (Nasdaq: SMTK) plummeted $8 13/16 to $7 13/16 after announcing it is postponing the release of its second quarter results as it resolves "potentially significant issues with the Company's accounting treatment for acquisitions that occurred during 1997 and certain other items relating to 1997," which could impact anticipated Q2, year-end, and prior quarterly results.

Mutual funds invested in Russia pulled back this morning after the Russian Trading System Index dropped 12% in afternoon trading there today following a 9% slide on Monday. Templeton Russia Fund (NYSE: TRF) lost $1 15/16 to $16 1/2, while the Morgan Stanley Russia & New Europe Fund (NYSE: RNE) shed $1 1/8 to $13 1/2.

1-800 Contacts (Nasdaq: CTAC) plunged $2 15/16 to $5 7/16 after the direct seller of replacement contact lenses reported a Q2 loss of $0.03 a share compared with pro forma earnings of $0.04 in the year-earlier period, primarily due to higher advertising costs including new TV ads. Analysts had expected Q2 EPS of $0.06.

Personal communications services company Omnipoint Corp. (Nasdaq: OMPT) sank $2 3/32 to $16 21/32 after reporting a Q2 loss of $3.17 a share, wider than last year's loss of $1.33 and analysts' expectations of a $2.52 loss. To listen to a replay of the company's conference call held yesterday, dial (888) 562-3875.

Network integrator Pomeroy Computer Resources (Nasdaq: PMRY) dropped $3 1/2 to $20 3/4 after reporting Q2 EPS of $0.42, up from $0.34 last year and in line with estimates.

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Contributing Writers
Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck), a Fool
Brian Graney (TMF Panic), Fool Two
Alex Schay (TMF Nexus6), Fool, too
Dale Wettlaufer (TMF Ralegh), Final Fool

Editing
Brian Bauer (TMF Hoops), another Fool
Bob Bobala (TMF Bobala), a Fool's Fool
Jennifer Silber (TMF Amused), Fool at last