Originally created 08/30/98

Investors' confidence shaken



Investors saw stocks prices climb through the summer and then drop about 1,000 points from July to August, rattling some investors' confidence.

On Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average nose dived more than 350 points, falling to 8,165.99 and marking the biggest point drop since Oct. 27. Friday, it dropped again closing at 8,051.68.

The slide has dragged the blue-chip barometer 1,286 points below its July 17 record high of 9,337.97, a drop of 13.8 percent. Whether this was a correction or a sign of something more to come is unclear, local brokers say. But the arc-shaped curve is apparent among many companies with local interests.

Although the market is down across the board, some brokers say it's hard to generalize about a wide array of stocks. Some stocks have taken a big hit while others hardly have been affected, Robin-Humphrey Co. branch manager M.A. Mullis said.

"(The market) doesn't go up forever," A.G. Edwards senior vice president Bill Gibbs said. "(But) is the world coming to an end? I doubt it."

Recently, however, troubles abroad have put pressure on stock prices, brokers say. The economic financial crisis in Asia, and now Russia, are having an effect.

Bank and high tech stocks were hit hard.

Here's how a few companies with local interests recently fared:

Amoco, which has a polymers facility here, hit a $52.25 a share high after it announced a merger with British Petroleum. It has since dropped closing Friday at $46 a share.

CBS, one of the few stocks that did not take a hit Thursday, closed Friday at $29.25 a share. The stock may have gotten a boost, local brokers say, because of its announcement that it will sell part of its radio business.

Delta Air Lines lost $6.94 a share Thursday, but recovered $3.38 a share by Friday, closing at $105.25 a share. It was down from a 52-week high earlier this summer of $143.63.

Regions Financial was down Friday from it's 52-week high of $45.63 a share, closing at $35.25 a share. The bank's stock plummeted Thursday more than five points at the end of the day.

SunTrust was also down Friday, closing at a new 52-week low of $57.62 a share. Its 52-week high was $87.75.

Kennemetal, which bought Greenfield Industries, also closed at a 52-week low Friday. Shares were selling at $27.25, down more than $28 a share from its 52-week high.

In addition to the summer's intense rise and fall, there was industry consolidation.

"I think what we're seeing is fairly normal," Mr. Gibbs said. "It's fairly typical of any growing, emerging industries that are changing."

Several companies announced mergers: Augusta-based Merry Land & Investment Co. said it will sell to Chicago apartment-giant Equity Residential Properties Trust in a $2.2 billion deal, which is expected to close in October.

Charlotte, N.C., NationsBank and San Francisco BankAmerica said they will come together to form the largest bank in the United States.

American Home Products Corp. announced plans to buy St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. And cookie company Keebler, just this week, said it would buy Presidents Baking Co, makers of Girl Scout Cookies, Famous Amos and Murray brands.

Here is what has happened to two local companies -- Merry Land & Investment Co., Martin Color-Fi -- in the past two months:

Merry Land, which has had a relatively flat stock price for the past three years, had been looking for a buyer for a few months. They agreed to the merger to boost shareholder value, company president and chief executive officer W. Tennent Houston said. The merger is expected to close in October.

The pending sale pushed Merry Land's stock up to $24.25 a share.

It fell, shortly afterward, however, due to the market-wide correction.

Friday the stock closed at $21.5.

The sale allows Merry Land shareholders to benefit from the regionally diverse holdings of Equity Residential, the largest publicly-traded apartment company in the nation, Marry Land officials say.

As a result of the deal, a new company, Merry Land Properties, will emerge.

Its holdings will include commercial property in downtown Augusta, five apartment complexes in Savannah and Charleston, S.C., and the thousands of acres of clay lands -- some of which could become frontage road on Bobby Jones Expressway when the Interstate loop is expanded.

Martin Color-Fi, the Edgefield company that makes polyester fibers and pellets from recycled plastic materials such as soda bottles and packaging material, has seen its stock steadily decline from a 52-week high of $8.63 a share in October to a recent low of less than $1 a share.

The company reported a second quarter net loss of $5.4 million, or 81 cents a share, and a net sales decline of 14 percent from $32.3 million in the second quarter of 1997 to $28 million.

Earlier this month, the company announced it was unable to pay creditors and hired an outside management team to keep the company afloat. The company has cut employees by 10 percent and could have more reductions in store. Company chairman and chief executive officer James F. Martin blamed the decline on foreign competition and a 10 percent increase in the cost of raw materials and announced he would cut his salary to $1.

Martin Color-Fi stock closed Friday at $1.50.