Bell Atlantic Corp.'s $30 billion offer for Tele-Communications Inc. and Liberty Media Corp. took center stage on Wall Street yesterday as cable-TV stocks rose and shares in most regional Baby Bells fell. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 10.06 points, to 3,603.19.
TAIL WAGS DOG: Are you always looking for the lowest commissions, but neglecting the right investment? Read this story, sent to me by a reader: A traveler came charging madly to the ticket window of New York's Grand Central Station one day, apparently about to miss his train, and shouted breathlessly, "Quick, quick! Give me a ticket to Springfield!" "Springfield?" the ticket seller asked, "Which Springfield? Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia? Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky? Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts? Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska? New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon? South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee? Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia or Wisconsin?"
And the traveler asked, "Which one is the cheapest?" The answer to that question is, of course, that it depends entirely on where you want to go. The cheapest ticket is the right ticket only if the nearest Springfield is the one which is your destination. A cheap ticket that takes you to a Springfield that is out of your way, or in the wrong direction, is a very expensive ticket indeed.
LOCAL LINE: Here, from the latest edition (October) of "Electric Utility Rankings" by Argus Research Corp., are some local utility rankings: Potomac Electric Power, Group 1, High Quality; Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Group 2, Good-To-High Quality; Delmarva Power & Light, Group 3, Good Quality. A few comments from the report: "Potomac Electric: An exceptionally poor 1992 summer air-conditioning season, during which temperatures were 35 percent below the 20-year norm, supports our belief that Pepco's profits will be much higher in 1993 . . . Delmarva Power & Light: Second-quarter operating revenues rose almost 11 percent, thanks to the effects of a stronger service-area economy, electric and gas rate hikes and more seasonable summer weather."
HIGH MARKS: Here are other electric utilities included in Group 1 (High Quality): Allegheny Power, Con Ed, Duke Power, Pennsylvania P&L;, San Diego G&E;, TECO Energy, Wisconsin Energy and SCANA Corp. Next, Group 2 (Good-To-High-Quality): American Electric Power, Boston Edison, Central & Southwest, DQE, Inc., Florida Progress, Northern States Power, Pacific Gas & Electric, DPL Inc., FPL Group, SCE Corp. and Union Electric.
HOPEFULLY HELPFUL: From Vanguard Fund founder John Bogle's new book, "Bogle on Mutual Funds" ($25), here are excerpts on mutual fund investing: "The intelligent mutual fund investor, using common sense, can perform right up with the professionals . . . When all else fails, commit half of your assets to a stock index fund and half to a bond index fund . . . Time dramatically enhances capital accumulation, so be sure to start early . . . Never forget that risk, return and cost are three sides of the investing triangle; higher costs can sharply erode a greater return . . . Stay the course; don't let transitory changes in stock prices alter your program."
BALTIMORE NOTE: Provident Bankshares, parent company of Provident Bank of Maryland, is mentioned in Business Week, Oct. 11, as follows: "Banks have never looked better than they do now, explains Bob Bonelli, who heads the Ernst Financial Group's Bank Equity Fund. He adds, 'And I expect they will be the next group to get caught up in the new takeover frenzy.' " The story goes on, "Among the tempting targets, he believes, is Provident Bankshares, parent company of Provident Bank of Maryland, a full-service bank in Baltimore, with 38 branches. Trading on Nasdaq at 17 1/2 , the stock is selling below its book value of more than $19. With a solid franchise in Baltimore, Provident is worth $30 to $35 in a takeover deal, says Bonelli."
MARYLAND & MORE: Exxon Corp. will be featured on Tuesday, Oct. 19 when Baltimore Security Analysts meet at noon at the Hyatt Regency. The speaker will be T. Peter Townsend, vice president, investor relations . . . "Stocks over the past year or so have been mainly interest-rate driven. In the period ahead stocks should be primarily earnings-driven. Investors should select undervalued stocks where earnings improvement can be forecast for at least the next several years." (Ernest Kiehne, Legg Mason) . . . "James Fraser, the 'Contrary Investor,' has added Bethlehem Steel stock to his buy list, commenting, 'The beneficial effects of plant modernization and cost-reduction efforts should lead to upside earnings surprises over the next couple of years.' " (Dick Davis Digest) . . . "We advise those looking for a peace play to buy Israel Land Development, an Israeli conglomerate controlled by the politically plugged-in Nimrodi family." (Vivian Lewis, Global Investing) . . . "The underpinnings of this bull market, which celebrates its third anniversary this month, remains very strong." (Bob Brinker's Marketimer) . . . "This should be a very difficult quarter, as interest rates firm and the stock market becomes even more selective." (The Institutional View.)