All Over the U.S., Lower Stock Prices Hit Home : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

03/28 05:56 All Over the U.S., Lower Stock Prices Hit Home: David Wilson By David Wilson

Princeton, New Jersey, March 28 (Bloomberg) -- So that's why the U.S. stock market's effect on consumer confidence received so much attention during the past few weeks.

Judging by the performance of seven dozen local stock indexes compiled by Bloomberg, few areas of the country were spared in the market's first-quarter slide.

Only four indexes showed gains of more than 1 percent as the quarter ended. Those measures track New England, Alabama, Las Vegas and Georgia's Gwinnett County, located northeast of Atlanta.

The Gwinnett index, lifted by a rise in Scientific-Atlanta Inc., placed first by rising 10 percent. The Las Vegas index, the top performer in last year's second and third quarters, was second with a 7.3 percent gain. The Alabama index, up 3.3 percent, ranked third; the New England index, up 1.3 percent, was fourth.

At the other extreme, more than one-fifth of these measures dropped at least 10 percent amid the market's retreat. An index designed to measure companies based in central Massachusetts trailed the field, as it lost almost a third of its value.

Relatively Well

These indicators track the shares of companies based in a city, state or region or ranked among the largest employers. Scientific-Atlanta, for instance, is part of the Gwinnett index because its headquarters is in Lawrenceville, Georgia, the county seat.

Because of their geographic focus, the indexes' performance can provide insight into the prospects for local economies. Maybe the only consolation is that their first-quarter losses weren't more severe.

About two-thirds of the measures fared better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, whose 7.8 percent loss as of yesterday's close was the smallest among the three benchmark measures for U.S. share prices.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 10.5 percent, and three-quarters of the local indexes surpassed that performance. All but six beat the Nasdaq Composite Index, which fell about twice as far: 20.2 percent.

Considering the Nasdaq's performance, it won't come as a surprise that most of the hardest-hit indexes track manufacturers of computers, semiconductors, software and networking equipment, along with biotechnology companies.

Parting Company

Scientific-Atlanta certainly fits the bill of a technology company. The company's set-top boxes enable customers of cable- television systems to obtain access to hundreds of channels digitally. Among its rivals, only Motorola Inc. is larger.

And during last year's second half, the company's shares followed the example of numerous other technology stocks. They declined 58 percent as digital cable proved to be a harder sell than some expected.

This year has been a different story. In January, Scientific- Atlanta estimated that earnings for the fiscal year ending in June will exceed analysts' estimates by about 4 percent. Since then it hasn't backtracked, unlike companies such as Motorola, which may end the March quarter with its first quarterly loss since 1985.

As a result, the stock has risen 52 percent this year to $49.60. The Gwinnett index has benefited not only because of the company's Lawrenceville home, but also because its share price is the highest among the index's 17 members.

The latter is significant because the index, like most of the other local indicators and the Dow industrials, is price weighted. Only share prices determine the effect of each stock on its value, while indexes such as the S&P 500 take market value into account.

Gaming Gains

Similarly, the Las Vegas index's return to a top position largely resulted from a rally in Anchor Gaming, a manufacturer of slot machines and lottery equipment. The company's shares rallied 61 percent in the quarter and traded yesterday at $63.25, their highest price since they were first sold publicly in January 1994.

Anchor Gaming wasn't alone, though. Other makers of gaming equipment made contributions, albeit smaller ones, to the index's first-quarter advance. Paul-Son Gaming Corp. quadrupled, Alliance Gaming Corp. more than doubled and Mikohn Gaming Corp. recorded a 38 percent gain.

The Alabama index's rise was a bit broader. Three-fifths of its 42 stocks moved higher, including Saks Inc., the Birmingham- based company that abandoned a plan to spin off its Saks Fifth Avenue department stores as a separate company.

Saks gained 35 percent amid a first-quarter rally in retail stocks, propelled by the Federal Reserve's efforts to bolster the economy through interest-rate cuts. Other index members that rose include Russell Corp., an apparel maker with a 23 percent advance, and SouthTrust Corp., the state's largest bank, up 11 percent.

Storage Setback

The New England index rose a bit with the help of companies such as Gtech Holdings Corp., the world's largest manufacturer of lottery equipment. Shares of the company, based in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, climbed 32 percent.

Other contributors included Boston Scientific Corp., a producer of medical devices. Shares of the Natick, Massachusetts- based company gained 38 percent. Thirty-five smaller companies in the 475-member index rose even more.

Gains such as these more than offset losses in the likes of EMC Corp., the largest provider of computer data-storage systems, whose share price fell 44 percent. That wasn't the case for the central Massachusetts index, which also includes the Hopkinton- based company and lost 32 percent in the first quarter.

EMC dropped along with companies such as Sepracor Inc., a biotechnology company based in Marlborough, Massachusetts. The stock's 58 percent drop during the quarter made it the index's worst performer.

Although most stocks didn't decline anywhere near that far, the local indexes' performance showed how broadly they fell. And that alone can hurt anyone's confidence.

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 28, 2001

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