Partners seek Boston venture fundThe first thing...


January 14, 1993|By David Conn

2 ABS partners seek Boston venture fund

The first thing Bruns Grayson wants you to know is that ABS Ventures is not breaking up.

It is true, however, that Robert Walkingshaw and Edward Anderson, Mr. Grayson's partners in the venture capital firm, are trying to start their own fund in Boston, where Mr. Anderson is based.

As noted last summer, the two were thinking about leaving ABS, Alex. Brown Inc.'s venture affiliate, but no decision had been made. Well, last fall they wrote an offering memo and have been testing the fund-raising waters in and around Boston since then.

"They've had some encouraging first noises and they've had some small commitments from individuals," Mr. Grayson said. He believes the two will be successful, but they won't be sure for three or four months.

In the meantime, Mr. Grayson said, he's "a little bit on hold" until his partners know what they'll be doing this year. Neither could be reached for comment.

Even if they go ahead with a new fund, ABS likely will have some affiliation with them, Mr. Grayson noted. And regardless of what happens with his partners, Mr. Grayson says ABS Ventures will move on, although not for at least a year.

"I would guess that, given the state of the funds, we wouldn't even think about trying to raise a new fund until 1994," he said. He has his hands full with the second and third of his company's venture funds, each of which holds about $50 million in investments. ABS II, started in 1983, is in liquidation, while the 5-year-old ABS III has about another five years of life in it.

"There's plenty of work to do," Mr. Grayson said.

Software cleaned up, USA Stats is back

USA Stats, the Baltimore-based Rotisserie baseball business, after a year on the disabled list, is back in the lineup. And that means Terry Woulfe is ready to combine his two passions: baseball and making money.

Sports and investment aficionados will recall that Mr. Woulfe and his partner, Bill Meyer, were building USA Stats into the leading purveyor of statistics services for the Rotisserie games, those fantasy baseball leagues that are the joy of baseball nuts and the bane of baseball widows the world over.

Mr. Meyer, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and Mr. Woulfe, who had left Legg Mason Capital Management in 1990 to run USA Stats full time, refunded their customers' money last year when software problems benched the company. Meanwhile, Mr. Woulfe joined the Towson-based investment manager Oxford Capital Management last spring.

But with spring training just around the corner, and the software problems cleared up, Mr. Woulfe this month left Oxford to return to greener fields at USA Stats (motto: "NTA -- No Ties Allowed"). He said that rather than quit the investment business cold turkey, he still plans to do some "low-intensity" management consulting for investment firms.

And Mr. Woulfe: "Baseball -- as someone famous once said -- it beats working."

Favorable report for Mercantile

Mercantile Bankshares Corp. has a friend in Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, the banking research and investment firm, whose report last month on Mercantile is titled "Strength to Spare."

Mercantile's stock, rising a "mere" 113 percent since late 1990, has underperformed the rest of KBW's Southeastern bank group, analyst Richard Stillinger notes. But that was largely because of what he calls a "flight from quality," as investors rushed to issues such as MNC Financial Inc. and Signet Banking Corp., anticipating stock gains as the banks' enormous loan problems began to abate.

At the same time, Mercantile's earnings growth has been steady but slow, partly because of its mild but persistent problems with nonperforming assets. Now, having fully reserved against the $21 million loan default by Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs, "it looks as if the well of large potential nonperforming loans has run dry," Mr. Stillinger maintains.

The company, which recently raised its dividend, is expected to boost noninterest income quickly in the coming years. And while a takeover is unlikely soon, Mercantile could be an attractive candidate some years down the road.

Mercantile "represents a blue-chip investment with prospective appreciation distinctly above average," Mr. Stillinger writes.

Kamanitz, Permison divide some duties

Executives on the move:

* Kamanitz, Uhlfelder & Permison managing partner Larry Kamanitz has handed over some of his duties to partner Robert S. Permison, 45, who now holds the title of administrative partner at the Baltimore accounting firm.

Mr. Kamanitz, 57, has decided to focus on marketing, rainmaking and customer service.

Mr. Permison, incidentally, just finished a term as the first noncontractor president of the Associated Builders & Contractors chapter in Baltimore.

* Weinberg & Green, the Baltimore law firm, has hired Gerard R. Vetter as a partner in the firm's banking and financial services practice. He comes from Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, where he co-chaired the workout and insolvency section of the creditors' rights and bankruptcy practice group.

* Provident Bank of Maryland last month elected two new board members: Sister Rosemarie Nassif, president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland; and Robert B. Barnhill Jr., chief executive officer and founder of TESSCO Technologies Inc., a Columbia mobile communications firm.

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