A Pine Box Play

There's nothing as certain as death, and in these uncertain times, investing in funeral homes may give some new life to a portfolio. The nation's biggest company in the funeral services business is Service Corporation International, which owns and operates 660 funeral homes and 160 cemeteries nationwide and in Canada. With Service's earnings in an upswing and its shares on the rise--from 9 a share in 1990 to 18 in recent days--some big investors say there's a good chance that the stock will hit the low 30s in another 12 months.

One bull is Todd Richter, senior-vice president at Dean Witter Reynolds, who estimates that this recession-proof company will earn (adjusted for a recent stock split) $1.20 a share this year and $1.35 next year, vs. 1991's $1.02. He says Service's strategy of acquiring growing and "quality" funeral homes will continue to lead to widening profit margins and rising earnings. Some big investors in Service include J. P. Morgan, which owns 10% of the stock, and Eagle Asset Management, with 7%.

Service owns some gf the best-known funeral homes including New York's Frank E. Campbell and Riverside. It also is constructing 22 new funeral homes this year.

A big source of business may well be overseas, primarily in Europe and Asia, says Chairman and CEO Bill Heiligbrodt. But even without expanding abroad, he sees revenues rising from $643 million in 1991 to $790 million in 1992 and to $865 million in 1993.

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