The topic was real estate and banking; the message was doom and gloom.
For nearly two hours last night, a few hundred clients of Alex. Brown Inc., a Baltimore-based investment banking and brokerage firm, listened to a forecast of the battered industries' prospects for the 1990s.
Though a few bright spots were found, the gathering was more akin to a wake as it laid to rest the phenomenal growth of the last decade.
"These single-digit, midget, bank stocks can go lower," said Sandra J. Flannigan, an Alex. Brown banking analyst. "As 1990 has progressed, it has become increasingly clear that the banking industry is under siege."
H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman and chief executive of Mercantile Bankshares Corp., one of the few banking companies that has avoided the industrywide decline, agreed.
"I think the fourth quarter is going to be just a terrible quarter" for banks, he said. "Massive write-offs" will lead to more losses, dividends will continue to be cut, and bad loans will mount, he predicted.
The assessment of the real estate industry was equally dismal.
"The next several years will be wrenching for the real estate business," said Robert S. Frank, managing director of Alex. Brown's real estate securities research group.
Steven J. Guttman, president of Federal Realty Investment Trust, identified apartment development and the top-tier shopping malls as the areas with the best near-term prospects.
"The gloomiest and doomiest" market is office development, which will not fully recover until the next century," Mr. Guttman said.
What has happened to the belief that Maryland and the region is recession-proof? "That myth is dead," Mr. Baldwin said.