Regional brokers detect a vigor in area industries
New York — ''The press has been so hard on the Midwest,'' complains Elliot Schlang, a 20 -year veteran at Prescott, Ball & Turben, the Cleveland-based brokerage house. Born and bred in Cleveland, but educated in Ivy League schools, Mr. Schlang claims he would never live anywhere else. And he criticizes the numerous business magazine features mourning the decline of the ''rust belt.''
Like other analysts at regional firms - particularly in widely ignored depressed areas - Schlang has been successful in ferreting out some gems among the ashes.
Schlang publishes Prescott, Ball & Turben's Great Lakes Review, a quarterly that evaluates and recommends some 25 stocks in the Great Lakes area. He points out: ''We are dealing with companies that are not in the steel or automotive or machine-tool businesses and that are doing quite well.''
His recommendation record is convincing. In a year where it may be difficult for any analyst to fail, Schlang's list of neglected regional firms far surpassed the market averages. Of his 25 stock picks, 23 rose. ''But more importantly,'' he said, ''ten have at least doubled, two tripled, and one quadrupled in price.'' Retailer Dollar General Corporation, lawn care specialist Chemlawn Corporation, and home builder Philips Industries Inc. all tripled. And Limited Stores, another aggressive retailer, quadrupled.
''Retailers did badly in the recession environment,'' he concedes. ''But these companies meet criteria for making money in spite of the economy and did well before the August market rally.''
Right now Schlang senses that stock prices are precariously high after the sustained rally. He is therefore somewhat hesitant about wholesale recommendations. But there are a few recent additions to his shopping list:
For instance, he has recently recommended American Sterilizer Co., headquarterd in hard-pressed Erie, Pa. The firm is the dominant factor in surgical tables and surgical lighting and he says it has a consistently outstanding record despite the economy in 1981 and '82.
Schlang suggests purchase of Mid-Continent Telephone Corporation to conservative investors who want a high yield now that money market fund rates are falling. ''It is a good way to lock in yield with a company that has increased its dividend every year since inception,'' he asserts.
He also likes Fabri-Centers of America Inc., which he recommended a year ago at $11 per share. Now selling at $20, Mr. Schlang still thinks it is an attractive play. The Beechwood, Ohio, company owns some 600 fabric stores in the US. ''The department stores have moved out of this business because they can't compete with the service and inventory necessary. That leaves Fabri-Centers the benefit of a vacuum,'' he says.
Another Schlang pick is Carlisle Corporation, a medium-sized industrial conglomerate whose earnings fell 22 percent last year. Schlang thinks the drop is reasonable given the economic conditions last year. ''It still has a 19 percent return on equity,'' he said in its defense, ''and a 7 percent return on sales.'' As a recovery candidate it will benefit from any improvement in the housing and automotive market, he predicts. The company makes single-ply roofing , brake linings, and recreational tires. ''Those are not exactly booming markets , and yet their earnings have held up fairly well.''
Minneapolis, which boomed in the mid-'70s with the prosperity of the farm belt, has recently fallen on hard times as agricultural commodities prices plunged. Piper Jaffray, a regional brokerage, sees some glimmer of hope in some area food companies.
John Tauer, a vice-president who supervises Piper Jaffray regional efforts, expects swelling earnings to boost the price of area stocks. He likes Wilson Foods Corporation, a pork processor which is expected to report a 40-cent dividend this summer. Says Tauer: ''There will be a huge swing to a $4 [per year ] profit next year.''
The numbers for pork processors get better when pork supplies increase, he explained. ''The price of pork falls, but volume is more important to the food processor than the price of the commodity.'' By 1985 Tauer expects Wilson's earnings to get up to $6 per share. In the food category, Piper Jaffray is also recommending Consolidated Foods, a giant processed-food conglomerate.
In the nonfood area Piper Jaffray is recommending Valspar Corporations, a $ 100 million (sales) paint company which sells to retailers. Earnings are expected to increase from $2.63 a share last year to $3 for the current year. They could rise to $4 next year.
Turning east to Philadelphia, Linette McCurry, a vice-president at the regional brokerage Butcher & Singer writes a monthly column for a local business magazine. She covers 45 regional corporations.
Says McCurry: ''Our latest stock ideas include Hunt Manufacturing Company, a selling at $175/8,'' she said. ''They make office files and desk organizers, Boston pencil sharpeners and artists inks and Exacto knives.'' The firm also produces, among other things, a line of reproduction doll furniture - a growing hobby. Although the stock sells at a premium multiple, 17 times earnings, the Butcher & Singer vice-president emphasizes that it is now in its 15th straight year of increasing earnings.
However, she notes, earnings this past year were somewhat disappointing. ''They sell a lot of their office products overseas to countries with growing infrastructures in the Middle East and North Africa,'' she explains. ''The strong dollar hurt those sales.'' McCurry is looking for $1.30 in earnings next year. ''They have clearly had a turnaround in US sales,'' she says. ''Their hobby products are doing well and inventories are low.''
In Pittsburgh, another city hit by the recession, Butcher & Singer focuses on another prospering firm: Papercraft Co. The company produces Christmas gift wrap in the low to middle price range, as well as artificial Christmas trees. Selling on the NYSE for $27, Papercraft increase 1982 earnings despite the general economic malaise. McCurry is looking for an increase in earnings from $2.28 in 1982 to $2.65 this year. ''They have a premium multiple because of the reliability of their earnings,'' she indicates. The company has a very low debt ratio - 11 percent and is looking for an acquisition, according to McCurry. Says she: "They will do well no matter what the stock market does. Any weakness , in fact, would be a buying opportunity."