'91-'92 Business. A look back and a look ahead. : It Was a Year to Make a Killing . . . or Get Killed : Stocks: A look at the winners and losers--and what separated the two.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The average stock rose 20% to 57% last year, as measured by the popular market indexes.

But a few lucky investors who discovered Littlefield, Adams & Co. early in the year left 1991 with an amazing paper gain of 2,175%. Their shares, traded on the American Stock Exchange, rocketed from 50 cents at the start of the year to $11.375 by Tuesday's close.

That turned a $1,000 investment into $22,750.

Investment success stories such as Littlefield, a leisure wear manufacturer, provide the incentive that ultimately keeps investors coming back to the stock market through good and bad times. However slim, it seems there's always the chance of making a killing, and that thought is forever in the back of every investor's mind.

In the charts listed at right are the big killings of 1991--the stocks that rose the most on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ over-the-counter market.

Also listed are the stocks that got killed--the year's biggest losers.

Here is a look at some of trends behind the winners and the dogs:

* Sportswear R Us: Leisure apparel seemed to be the place to be in 1991, by some odd coincidence. In Littlefield's case, the excitement was over the San Antonio company's return to profitability after nine years of losses.

Littlefield's business is mainly athletic wear, banners and pennants sold at college bookstores and at resorts. Its annual revenue is only about $6 million, but a merger with a maker of camping equipment is expected to boost sales sharply--which is a big reason why the stock jumped.

It's a great story, but whether the company's future performance will justify its stock's meteoric rise remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, sportswear maker Nutmeg Industries rewarded its shareholders in fine fashion as well. The stock, on the NYSE, soared 538% to close the year at $23.125.

Nutmeg makes all manner of sportswear bearing logos and characters of the four major professional sports leagues, as well as for college teams. The company's sales have been soaring in recent years and may soon top $100 million a year, up from $12 million in 1987. Investors smell a long-term growth company here--so long as there are fans who need sports teams with which to identify.

* More Fun & Games: The gambling business is big and getting bigger, and investors see WMS Industries and International Game Technology as two ways to play that growth.

WMS, a maker of pinball machines and other coin-operated games under the Bally, Midway and Williams names, hopes to open a huge new market with its video lottery terminals, introduced last September. The terminals, offering games of chance such as poker and bingo, are designed for bars, restaurants and other establishments. If you win while playing, you get a voucher redeemable by the establishment's operator.

Four states have legalized the terminals so far (Oregon is one), and WMS will begin installing its terminals this year. The excitement over the terminals pushed the stock up 669% in 1991 to $27.875, making it the biggest winner on the NYSE.

International Game Technology wasn't far behind WMS on the NYSE. IGT's shares zoomed 449% to $46. The company, which makes a variety of electronic casino games (mainly slot machines) is expected to be a big winner as more states legalize casino gambling. IGT also operates a few casinos of its own in Nevada and the Caribbean.

* Biotech Mania: If there was one stock group you had to own last year, it was biotechnology. Wall Street's love affair with emerging biotech companies reached epidemic proportions, and by the end of the year was still going strong--despite a sudden selloff in November.

* San Diego-based Immune Response was the second-best stock on the NASDAQ market, up 1,265% for the year to $39.25. It had been as high as $62.75 before investors took a breather.

Other big biotech winners included North American Vaccine on the AmEx and ICN Pharmaceuticals on the NYSE. * High--and Low--Finance: While some of the nation's biggest financial services companies began to look like dinosaurs in 1991--in particular, Citicorp and some of California's major S&Ls--a; legion of smaller players emerged to serve credit-starved businesses and consumers.

Among the year's stars was Pasadena-based Countrywide Credit, which has become a huge mortgage banker at the expense of fading rivals. Countrywide's stock finished the year at $40.625, up 339% on the NYSE, making it the 10th-best stock overall.

Also in the winner's circle were many regional and discount brokerages, which enjoyed brisk business as individual investors poured back into the markets. Memphis-based brokerage Morgan Keegan shined, as its stock jumped 356% on the NYSE, to $22.25.

* Laser Burns: One of the biggest industry casualties of the year was a group of companies that make lasers used in surgery and in other medical practices.

Surgical Laser, Laserscope and Candela Laser, all NASDAQ stocks, took up three of the spots on that market's 10 biggest losers' list. While the technology has proved its place in modern medicine, the laser business apparently proved to be just as vulnerable to competitive pressures as any other business: Too many players jumped into the market this year, leaving many of the companies with a shrinking piece of the pie.

* Oh, California! If there was one other pattern to the losers' list for 1991, it was the California connection: An embarrassingly high percentage of the companies call the Golden State home.

On the NYSE, the dogs ranged from Live Entertainment, the troubled movie distributor whose proposed merger with Carolco Pictures fell apart late in the year, to Standard Brands Paint, the Torrance-based paint retailer in desperate need of a cash infusion, to Community Psychiatric, whose shares collapsed after the company was hit with allegations of fraudulent billing at its psychiatric centers.

Also, Perris-based Modtech, which makes modular classrooms for overcrowded school districts mainly in California, found that orders didn't arrive as expected. The stock, on the NASDAQ, lost 71% of its value for the year, closing at $2.75. And workers' compensation insurance firm CII Financial plunged 47% for the year as California launched an offensive against soaring comp rates.

It's true that the losers' lists are subjective in a sense, because they exclude companies whose stocks have already fallen below $2. That means a lot of the year's big bankruptcies don't show up on the lists.

Still, Californians can't take much solace in that: Including the under-$2 group would just have added two more California companies to the NYSE losers' list: Carter Hawley Hale, owner of the Broadway, and San Diego S&L; HomeFed Corp.

Top 10 New York Stock Exchange Winners The top 10 stocks on the NYSE in 1991. The list includes only common stocks and does not include stocks whose 1991 closing price was below $2. Prices have been adjusted for stock splits.

Close ($) Yr.to date Stock Dec. 31,'91 % change Line of business WMS Industries $27.875 +669.0% Coin-operated games Horizon Healthcare 10.375 +538.5% Long-term care facilities Nutmeg Industries 23.125 +537.9% Sportswear ICN Pharmaceuticals 18.00 +526.1% Drugs Aileen Inc. 18.625 +496.0% Women's apparel Intl. Game Technology 46.00 +449.3% Coin-operated games Triton Energy 33.375 +434.0% Oil/gas exploration Morgan Keegan 22.25 +356.4% Regional stock brokerage Conseco Inc. 61.875 +342.0% Life insurance Countrywide Credit 40.625 +339.2% Mortgage finance

Source: Associated Press

Top 10 New York Stock Exchange Losers The 10 stocks that fell the most on the NYSE in 1991. The list includes only common stocks and does not include those trading below $2 at year's end. Prices have been adjusted for stock splits.

Close ($) Yr.to date Stock Dec. 31,'91 % change Line of business Live Entertainment $3.25 -73.7% Movie distributor Standard Brands Paint 2.25 -67.9% Paint retailer Western Co. North. Am. 5.00 -64.9% Oil/gas drilling Columbia Gas 17.25 -63.2% Natural gas distributor Hibernia Corp. 2.75 -58.5% New Orleans bank Suave Shoe 4.375 -53.9% Casual shoes Laidlaw Class A 8.625 -53.7% Buses & waste mgmt. Compaq Computer 26.375 -53.2% Personal computers Laidlaw Class B 8.75 -52.7% Buses & waste mgmt. Community Psychiatric 14.125 -51.5% Psychiatric centers

Source: Associated Press

Top 10 American Exchange Winners The top 10 stocks on the AmEx in 1991. The list includes only common stocks and does not include stocks whose 1991 closing price was below $2. Prices have been adjusted for stock splits.

Close ($) Yr. to date Stock Dec. 31, '91 % change Littlefield Adams $11.375 +2,175.0% Response Technologies 5.75 +1,050.0% Astrotech Intl. 9.250 +722.2% N. American Vaccine 26.125 +703.8% Ivax Corp. 38.625 +653.7% Continental Homes 13.125 +483.3% Bolar Pharmaceutical 13.50 +468.4% Comptek Research 21.50 +405.6% GTI Corp. 10.25 +382.4% Sandy Corp. 6.00 +380.0%

Stock Line of business Littlefield Adams Leisure wear Response Technologies Cancer lab research Astrotech Intl. Refinery maintenance N. American Vaccine Biotech research Ivax Corp. Drugs, diagnostic products Continental Homes Single-family homes Bolar Pharmaceutical Generic drugs Comptek Research Defense electronics GTI Corp. Electronic circuit boards Sandy Corp. Corp. training programs

Source: Associated Press

Top 10 American Exchange Losers The 10 stocks that fell the most on the AmEx in 1991. The list includes only common stocks and does not include those trading below $2 at year's end. Prices have been adjusted for stock splits.

Close ($) Yr.to date Stock Dec. 31, '91 % change Line of business Chiles Offshore $3.00 -61.9% Offshore drilling Hallwood Realty 2.00 -59.0% Real estate management Riedel Environmental 3.00 -57.1% Hazardous waste services Essex Financial 6.625 -56.9% Southeast savings bank First National Corp. 5.625 -52.1% San Diego bank Nortankers 2.75 -50.0% Oil tanker fleet Koger Equity 4.00 -49.2% Real estate inv. trust CII Financial 8.00 -46.7% Workers' comp insurance Team Inc. 8.125 -44.0% Infrastructure repair Lazare Kaplan 7.50 -43.9% Diamond cutter/merchant

Source: Associated Press

Top 10 Over-the-Counter Winners The top 10 stocks on the NASDAQ market in 1991. The list includes only common stocks and does not include stocks whose 1991 closing price was below $2. Prices have been adjusted for stock splits.

Close ($) Yr. to date Stock Dec. 31, '91 % change Line of business Cato Corp. $14.50 +1,917.4% Women's apparel stores Immune Response 39.25 +1,265.2% Biotech research American Claims 19.50 +1,200.0% Insurance services Electric & Gas Tech. 7.625 +1,120.0% Measuring devices Calif. Micro Devices 6.125 +880.0% Electronic components Herley Industries 9.875 +777.8% Microwave components Waterhouse Investor 27.50 +762.7% Discount brokerage Hauser Chem. Research 23.25 +745.5% Drugs EMPI Inc. 33.50 +737.5% Biomedical products Liposome Tech. 18.50 +722.2% Biotech research

Source: Associated Press

Top 10 Over-the-Counter Losers The 10 stocks that fell the most on the NASDAQ market in 1991. The list includes only common stocks and does not include those trading below $2 at year's end. Prices have been adjusted for stock splits.

Close ($) Yr. to date Stock Dec. 31, '91 % change Line of business Sprouse-Reitz $2.25 -77.5% Genl. merchandise retailer Constellation Banc 2.00 -72.4% New Jersey bank Xplor Corp. 2.00 -71.9% Oil/gas exploration Surgical Laser 5.125 -71.9% Laser surgery systems Modtech 2.75 -71.1% Modular classrooms Laserscope 7.625 -69.5% Laser surgery systems Castle Energy 2.44 -68.5% Oil/gas Major Realty 2.75 -67.6% Florida land developer Medical Imaging 4.00 -66.3% Patient diagnostic cntrs. Candela Laser 7.75 -65.6% Scientific/medical lasers

Source: Associated Press

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