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April 24, 1988|CHRIS KRAUL and GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writers

Tiny bubbles provided a big payoff for investors in Molecular Biosystems, the leader on The Times' list of top stock performers for San Diego County.

Microscopic bubbles called "microspheres" are the basis of the company's new ultrasound imaging agent that may be the first to enable cardiologists to see real-time images of blood flowing through the heart.

Although the product is still at least two years from availability, speculation that Albunex may find a multimillion-dollar market caused the stock to shoot up in 1987, giving the company a market valuation of more than $112 million.

The stock's performance had nothing to do with Molecular Biosystems product sales: The company sold only $136,000 worth of diagnostic and research products in fiscal 1987.

The performance of other top San Diego stocks in 1987 wasn't so rooted in speculation. With Computer & Communications Technology Corp., a manufacturer of computer data recording components, it was a clear case of no news being good news.

In 1986, CCTC stock was pounded after the company was forced to rescind the sale of its Zeta Laboratories unit to Whittaker Corp. after revelations that Zeta had overcharged on defense contracts. That same year, CCTC was forced to discontinue its thin film media business, resulting in multimillion-dollar writeoffs. The two events contributed to a $27.4-million net loss for 1986.

For La Jolla Bancorp, the past year was one marked by improved profitability, as the parent company of 15-year-old La Jolla Bank and Trust Co. saw its net income rise by 30% to $2.3 million from $1.7 million in 1986.

La Jolla Bancorp is expected to complete mergers with Hidden Valley National Bank of Escondido and the Bank of Del Mar during 1988. It recently completed a merger with McNee Realty Services, an acquisition that gives the bank expanded real estate services.

La Jolla-based Triton Group reported a sharp boost in its net income during 1987, largely a gain from the sale of Triton's Simplicity Pattern holdings for $117.5 million.

The holding company also is considering the sale of its Continental Graphics Corp. subsidiary. Triton also owns portions of marine and industrial companies.

Price Co., operator of 38 Price Club discount warehouses, posted an 11% stock gain as the company continued its expansion in new markets and consolidation of old ones. Although Price Club's sales in Southern California were "cannibalized" by competition and more Price Clubs, analysts continued to favor Price over its raft of competitors, noting that a typical Price Club still does 2.5 times the volume of a typical competing discount warehouse.

Since the stock performance table takes only stock price and cash dividends into account, the stock dividends issued to Henley Group stockholders were not included in calculations of total shareholder return. Nevertheless, Henley shareholders received stock in two Henley spinoffs, Fisher Scientific Group and Henley Manufacturing, that at year-end had given Henley shareholders an additional $2.05 per share of value.

WD-40 showed a negative 10% return to shareholders because of poor 1987 earnings. But on a two-year basis, WD-40 remains one of the top performers in San Diego--and the state.

WD-40 Chairman Jack W. Barry has told shareholders that the "one-product" company is continuing its search for a second product that would augment sales of the WD-40 lubricant that accounts for all of the company's revenue.

San Diego's fastest-growing public company was Beeba's Creations, a contract clothing manufacturer that owns and operates several offshore plants. Beeba's sold 20% of its stock to J. C. Penney last year and announced a venture in which Beeba's will supply 50% of the inventory for Penney's new women's sportswear line called Mixit. Beeba's has specialized in finding foreign sources for clothing--and, for certain items, its production accounts for almost all that some countries can sell to the United States. under current quotas. The Penney investment in Beeba's illustrates retailers' increased demand for such nimble balancing of foreign production against U.S. quota restrictions.

Growing by virtue of acquisition was Great American First Savings, which acquired Capital Savings of Olympia, Wash. through a merger on Oct. 8., adding 32 retail offices. Great American also grew in Arizona, adding 18 offices in Phoenix and Tucson. The $15.2-billion S&L now operates 228 offices in five states.

Not as lucky in its acquisitions was Titan Corp. Although it grew 13% in sales to $123 million, Titan's earnings were hurt after it was forced to discontinue its core memories division, resulting in an after-tax loss of $2.6 million.

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