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San Diego firms take divergent paths on Wall Street since terror attacks

The old adage, "It's a market of stocks, not a stock market" has certainly applied to San Diego's publicly traded companies over the past year. The only consistency in the tale of the local stock tape has been inconsistency.

The combination of terrorist attacks, corporate corruption and economic uncertainty have created a blend of conditions that have touched just about every player on Wall Street. And San Diego companies were no exception.

As a group, technology stocks -- as measured by the Nasdaq composite index -- have lost nearly a quarter of their value since the attacks of Sept. 11 and local tech stocks have not been immune from the decline. For instance, Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) has fallen from its pre-attack close of $50.54 to its current price of $29.57. Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (Nasdaq: AMCC) has slipped from $12.20 to $4.06, and Gateway's (NYSE: GTW) current price of $3.11 is down from $8.46 on Sept. 10, 2001.

One of the more highly publicized tech tragedies of the past 12 months has been that of Peregrine Systems (OTC: PRGN.PK). The business software company is being investigated for possible accounting irregularities and has been delisted by Nasdaq. Its shares were selling at $22.97 a year ago and now trade on the "pink sheets" for around 25 cents. The company has sold off several divisions and has laid off hundreds of local employees. It is contesting the delisting by the Nasdaq.

However, several local companies have benefited from the renewed investor interest in dividends. In particular, real estate investment trusts have become one of the few safe havens on Wall Street.

"Public real estate companies have demonstrated to investors that they are steady performers in times of economic uncertainty," said William Sanders of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts. "More and more investors -- both institutional and individual -- are getting the message that real estate stocks offer high income, low volatility, and low correlation with the rest of the stock market."

Benefiting from this rush to safety has been local REITs such as Escondido-based Realty Income Corp. (NYSE: O). Not only have the shares appreciated from $28.10 last September to its current price of $33.60, but the company still has an annual dividend yield of about 6.8 percent.

Another local REIT that is riding the wave higher is Pan Pacific Retail Properties Inc. (NYSE: PNP). Its dividend yield of 5.7 percent has attracted investor interest and pushed the share price up to $33.62 from $25.90 a year ago.

Although current market conditions have practically shut down the market for new public offerings, two local companies have braved the troubled waters in the past year and ventured into the wacky world of Wall Street.

AMN Healthcare Services (NYSE: AHS) conducted its initial public offering just two months after the terrorist attacks. The company, which provides temporary health care staffing services, issued 10 million shares at $17. The stock price jumped to $37.40 in June of this year, but has since slipped back to $20.90.

Chula Vista-based First PacTrust Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: FPTB) was once of only three companies to hold an IPO last month. The regional bank company sold more than 5 million shares at $12 and the price has moved slightly higher, finishing Tuesday at $14.48.

The past 12 months has also seen several publicly traded San Diego companies disappear from the stock market. Jenny Craig, the worldwide operator of weight control centers, was sold out to a private group of investors for $115 million. And, Burnham Pacific Properties -- once a popular REIT that specialized in San Diego County retail properties -- completed the liquidation of its properties and closed down its operations in June.

Another San Diego company, HNC Software, was the target of an $810 million takeover by credit-scoring company Fair, Isaac. HNC provides software that tracks and interprets customer transactions.

Add it all up and the past year has provided plenty of excitement for local companies and investors. There's no reason to think that will change any time soon.

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