Md. stocks flirt with bull fever

Index gains 2.70, while the Dow has a record gallop

MedImmune up $18.4687

Black & Decker and Mercantile also move higher


March 17, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Several Maryland companies were lifted yesterday as the Dow Jones industrial average was making a record one-day point jump, although the overall gains in the state were modest.

The Sun-Bloomberg Maryland index of the top 100 Maryland stocks gained 2.70 yesterday to close at 290.86.

The index, which includes many biotech stocks that have taken big price hits this week, is up 30 percent so far this year. But it has lost nearly 50 points, or 14 percent, in the past week. Its close yesterday is almost 60 points below its record close of 347.07, set March 6.

MedImmune Inc., the fast-growing Gaithersburg biotechnology company, led the Maryland winners with an 11 percent gain of $18.4687 to close at $179.1875.

Linthicum-based telecommunications-equipment maker Ciena Corp. shot up $8.171875, or 6.52 percent, closing at $133.4843.

Other leaders included companies in more traditional sectors, such as banking and manufacturing. Mercantile Bankshares Corp. of Baltimore rose $2.187, or 8 percent, to $29, and Towson-based Black & Decker Corp. rose $3.8125, or 11 percent, to $38.0625.

Value stocks "had been a source of funds for more active traders buying telecom, Internet and `new economy' stocks, and I think they saw some weakness over the last handful of trading days," said John R. Boo, head of Nasdaq trading at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. "That caused a big shift of capital to companies that better lend themselves to more conventional valuation tools."

On the losing side was Aether Systems Inc., an Owings Mills wireless data company. Its shares lost $35.6875, or 15 percent, and closed at $209.3125.

Aether was trading at $16 in October, climbed steadily, then shot up more than more than 12 percent on March 9 to $315 in the wake of its acquisition of a mobile computing company in Vienna, Va.

"Everyone who owns [Aether] has made a profit, and the company made good acquisition announcements, but it got ahead of itself and still lost money last year," said Jerry Scheinker, senior vice president at Legg Mason.

In 1999, Aether lost nearly $31 million on $6 million in revenue.

PE Corp.'s Celera Genomics Group, the Rockville gene-mapping firm, also took a hit yesterday, losing $15 to close at $131. And Visual Networks Inc., a Rockville telecommunications software company, closed at $65, down $6.8906.

"People are taking their profits off the table and putting them elsewhere," Scheinker said.

He said that while investors still generally like technology stocks, they are beginning to be more selective about what they buy.

"People are upgrading the quality of their portfolios and buying higher-quality techs -- the Ciscos and the Sun Microsystems and the Microsofts," he said, "and selling the ones that are lower-quality and where the earnings vision going out is not that great."

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