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Md. stocks tumble as well; Index skids 8.81%; Aether dives $24; Day of turbulence


The index of leading Maryland companies plunged along with the Nasdaq composite index and the Dow Jones industrial average yesterday, falling 8.81 percent.

The Sun-Bloomberg Maryland index of the top 100 Maryland stocks lost 20.38 points yesterday to close at 210.90 -- 40 percent off its 52-week high of 351.64, which it reached March 7.

The Nasdaq and the Dow were down 9.67 percent and 5.66 percent, respectively, yesterday.

Maryland companies that had scored some of the most spectacular gains racked up some of the biggest losses yesterday.

Aether Systems Inc., an Owings Mills wireless data company, led the decliners. Its shares fell $24.3281, or 24.3 percent, to $75.7344, down 78 percent from its March 10 high of $345.

Human Genome Sciences Inc., a Rockville biotechnology company, also took a hit yesterday, losing $16.75 to $62.875. It has dropped 73 percent from the $232.75 peak it reached March 1.

PE Corp.'s Celera Genomics Group, the Rockville gene-mapping firm, fell $14 to close at $74 -- also a 73 percent drop from its high, $276, reached Feb. 25.

"We're going through the fear-and-greed cycle," said Eric Leo, chief investment officer of Allied Investment Advisors in Baltimore. "During the greed cycle, the market shot up and took technology and the new economy stocks with it," he said.

"Almost everyone knew it couldn't go on forever, and now the market has turned."

"This is a healthy correction, although a very abrupt one," Leo said. "It's taking the speculative fluff out of the market in a painful way."

There were some modest winners yesterday, especially within Maryland's banking sector.

The top gainer was Frederick-based F&M; Bancorp, whose shares rose 3.81 percent to close at $18.75, up 68.75 cents. Annapolis National Bancorp rose 37.5 cents, or 9.68 percent, closing at $4.25.

Other leaders included Tessco Technologies, a Hunt Valley-based distributor of equipment for the wireless communications industry, which rose 37.5 cents, or 2.21 percent, to $17.375.

Douglas G. Ober, chairman and chief executive of Adams Express Co. in Baltimore, said that during a setback, investors tend to look to the "dogs" of the market that often have stronger balance sheets and income statements.

"People are coming to grips with the idea that the stock market has been a bit overvalued," Ober said. "They are coming to grips with the idea that the Federal Reserve is going to get more serious about inflation."

Last Tuesday, while the Nasdaq and the Dow Jones fell 1.77 percent and 0.51 percent, respectively, the Maryland index lost 9.56 points -- down 3.74 percent -- after a 4.8 percent loss the day before.

"Last week, we experienced turbulence," Ober said. "This week it is more than turbulence.

"There's more downside to come. In the long term, it's healthy for the market. In the short term, it'll make everyone uncomfortable."

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