BAR CODES: THE LATEST INVESTOR SCAN
(FORTUNE Magazine) – BAR CODES: THE LATEST INVESTOR SCAN
Just when you were taking bar codes for granted, along comes Symbol Technologies with a new generation that can accommodate a fingerprint, a photograph, even the Gettysburg Address. Peter Barry, an analyst with C.J. Lawrence, thinks that the codes and another new product--a wireless computer technology--will help lift Symbol's stock price by about 40% over the next 12 months.
Unlike a traditional bar code, which reads only horizontally, the new one reads vertically as well. This enables it to store more than two kilobytes of data, over 100 times that of a traditional code. The enormous capacity allows users to pack all kinds of information into a humble space. The U.S. military is testing the codes on more than one million IDs. These will contain digitized photos of the holders, along with their blood type, eye color, date of birth, and other personal information that can be read by a scanner. Some states are beginning to use the codes on driver's licenses. Other applications include encoding bills of lading and putting pages' worth of medical information on labels attached to lab samples.
Equally promising are the company's activities in wireless computing. Symbol is already making money setting up wireless local area networks at its customers' warehouses, retail stores, and factories. In June the Long Island, New York, outfit will introduce a new wireless product, code-named Galaxy, capable of transmitting even greater volumes of data. "Wireless is on the brink of becoming a major industry," says Hambrecht & Quist analyst Joseph Arsenio. Indeed, Samuel May of Boston's Yankee Group forecasts that this market will balloon from about $200 million this year to more than $1 billion in 1998.
All this comes on top of Symbol's other businesses --making bar-code scanners and portable data terminals--which also link workers to the computer information systems (IS) that most companies are built around. Says President Jan Lindelow: "We are the bridge between the physical world and the IS world."
CARDIO TEMPS IN THE HOUSE
When the share price of Interim Services dropped by more than 10% in early May, it became ripely undervalued. Goldman Sachs analyst Victor Mandel says investors overreacted to inconclusive Labor Department data suggesting a slowdown in temporary-job expansion, and pounded stocks in the industry. Mandel, in fact, doesn't even believe a slowdown is looming because "more companies are moving to a flexible and lean work force and supplementing their needs through the use of temps."
Interim is especially well positioned to benefit from outsourcing trends since its workers straddle all kinds of businesses in 46 states. Last year about half its $634 million revenues came from health services, mostly home care, which is booming and provides a buffer against the cyclical nature of other industries using plug workers. The medical temps include a variety of doctors, such as pediatricians and cardiologists. Interim also lays on paralegals and court reporters, along with more traditional clerical and industrial workers.
CEO Ray Marcy wishes to use his debt-free balance sheet to acquire additional local and regional agencies, especially ones that specialize in higher-margin niche professions like law and accounting. He hints he would spend up to $200 million on the right one. Marcy, who wants to add at least $50 million to sales through such purchases, promises, "We will sustain earnings growth in the 15% to 20% range, regardless of the economic cycle." Last year Interim made profits of $14 million.
Purchasing shares in Santa Monica-based Harvey Entertainment is an investment in the careers of over 900 comic characters, Casper the Friendly Ghost among them. If Steven Spielberg's Casper, which opened May 26, flies with movie goers, Harvey should prosper from the 36% merchandising royalties it gets on the sale of Casper toys, lunchboxes, clothes, videogames, and the like. Over 100 licensees, including Tyco Toys and Marvel Comics, have signed up.
So far, profits remain largely spectral for Harvey, which had sales of $6 million last year but edged into the black only in the final quarter. Last September, Harvey CEO Jeffrey Montgomery, 30, told the Wall Street Journal that the movie was his company's sole shot at success. The odds have gotten better since then. An animated Casper TV series, to air on Fox in February, could induce more royalty revenues. In addition, co-producer MCA, which owns 11% of Harvey, just opened a Casper attraction at its Universal Studios theme park in Florida.
What of competing products to be unleashed with the summer release of Batman Forever, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, and Pocahontas? Says Montgomery: "Kids already have an awful lot of Batman in their closet. Casper is fresh, and it's a character they can hug."