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BULLS & BEARS

Market was cruel to high-tech firms

By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff, 5/21/2002

    Globe 100
Bulls:
  1. Clean Harbors
  2. Hologic
  3. NMT Medical
  4. DeWolfe
  5. Indevus Pharmaceuticals

Bears:
  1. Sonus Networks
  2. Art Technology Group
  3. Praecis Pharmaceutical
  4. American Tower
  5. Dusa Pharmaceutical

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In a year when many sectors of the technology-dominated Massachusetts economy turned into a disastrous mess, it was only fitting that the state's star performer on Wall Street would be a company that cleans up toxic waste.

Braintree-based Clean Harbors Inc. saw its shares leap 377.5 percent in the 12 months ended March 31, bolstered by record revenues each quarter and investor enthusiasm over its $311 million bid for Safety-Kleen Corp.'s chemical services division.

By acquiring the cleanup unit from bankrupt Safety-Kleen of Columbia, S.C., Clean Harbors is poised to triple its revenues and jump from number three to number one among US operators of hazardous waste disposal facilities in North America.

Too bad for many of the losers on this year's list that Clean Harbors' expertise extends only as far as medical waste and chemical and oil spills, not the financially toxic waste of faltering investments in telecommunications, Internet services, and other high-tech wreckage.

A former poster child for the telecom boom, Sonus Networks of Westford turned into the biggest bear, losing 86.9 percent of its stock value as the most likely customers for its advanced switching gear began going bankrupt and its sales expectations plunged. More than $11 billion of Sonus shareholder wealth whipped up during telecom mania in 2000 has disappeared.

Sonus was hardly alone among Massachusetts telecom-oriented publicly traded companies that experienced a hard landing from the irrational heights of telecom-Internet exuberance two years ago. Cellphone-tower giant American Tower of Boston, optical switch maker Sycamore Networks, Verizon Communications competitor CTC Communications of Waltham, and telecom-component maker NMS Communications all sank by 50 to 70 percent for the year.

They had some big-name company in that neighborhood. Data-storage giant EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, once the state's most richly valued tech company, fell nearly 60 percent for the year. Former Internet and Wall Street darling Akamai Technologies of Cambridge -- a $300 stock in the winter of 2000, an $8.50 stock in March 2001 -- fell another 53.2 percent to $4 in late March and hovered over $2 last week. The collapse of the dot-com economy took an 82.8 percent bite out of the stock of Art Technology Group of Cambridge, which makes software for personalizing corporate e-commerce Web sites.

And reflecting the go-for-broke volatility of biotech and medical technology, Bay State companies in those areas landed among both the five best stocks and the five worst.

Among winners was Hologic Inc. of Bedford, whose shares jumped 286.3 percent on investor enthusiasm for systems that convert X-rays directly to digital formats and its progress chopping staff and expenses to get toward profitability. NMT Medical of Boston, whose shares were down to penny-stock status in early 2001 on concerns it was nearly out of cash, dumped losing product lines to focus heavily on a surgical device used to prevent strokes for heart patients. Investors bid up its shares from $2.38 to $8, a 236.8 percent gain.

And Indevus Pharmaceuticals (formerly Interneuron Pharmaceuticals) jumped 180 percent on talk that drug giant Pfizer might be interested in an Indevus drug that could help an estimated 20 million Americans with panic and anxiety disorders, and progress for another drug for urinary incontinence.

But at the same time, shares of Praecis Pharmaceuticals of Waltham were hammered, losing 73.9 percent of their value, after the Food and Drug Administration ordered extra tests for its prostate-cancer drug and deep-pocketed partner Amgen Inc. in September walked away from its $200 million alliance with Praecis.

Dusa Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Wilmington fell nearly 70 percent, to $4.01, on reports that it was making slower than expected progress selling drugs that are activated by exposure to light for treatments of cancerous skin lesions.

All in all, it was a tough year for investors in Massachusetts-based companies, who in the later 1990s could find scores of companies that would double their money in a year. Just 15 Bay State companies returned more than 100 percent in the year ended March 31, among them local residential real-estate giant DeWolfe Cos. of Lexington, up 181.7 percent for the year on a strategy of combining home-selling, moving, insurance, and mortgage services.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.


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