After completing a comprehensive, three-year restructuring, Perkin-Elmer has yet to deliver good tidings to its shareholders. Its stock, currently trading at 22, is down from its 1990 high of 25 and way off its 1987 high of 41. And analysts aren't expecting a significant jump in earnings, either.

Even so, several smart-money investors have been snapping up shares of Perkin-Elmer, a major maker of analytical instruments used in determining the composition and molecular structure of chemicals. One big player is investment manager George Soros, the chairman of Quantum Fund, who acquired a 5.8% stake from September to November at $18 to $22 a share. Soros contends that the purchase is for investment purposes only.

Perkin-Elmer is trading at a price-earnings ratio of 17--well below the p-e it has posted in recent years. But other big investors believe Soros may be looking at more than just Perkin-Elmer's earnings prospects now that the company has divested three of its businesses, including semiconductor-production equipment. One takeover investor notes that foreign sales accounted for 53% of Perkin-Elmer's total 1990 revenues and 69% of operating income. Several pros believe that Soros expects Perkin-Elmer to become a takeover target for a big European company.

R&D APPEAL. One investor puts Perkin-Elmer's takeover value at about $35 a share--and analysts at 13D Research agree. By focusing on the rapidly growing instrumentation markets in the drug, biotech, and environmental-protection industries, notes 13D's Woody Preucil, Perkin-Elmer should generate annual per-share earnings growth of 12% to 15% over the next several years. Another factor that should drive the company's growth is worldwide competition, which is making research and technology more important than ever.

Management is aware that Perkin-Elmer's assets are undervalued. It repurchased 10.1 million shares, or 23%, of the company's stock last summer, at 18 3/4 to 24 1/2. Under Perkin-Elmer's repurchase plan, the company could opt to buy some 5.7 million more. Other big holders of Perkin-Elmer shares include Lehman Ark Management, which has an 8.2% stake, and Sasco Capital, with 7%. A company spokesman says he isn't aware of any merger or takeover talks.

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