Smile, If You Own Dental Managers

Nancy Weaver tripled her money in--believe it or not--Columbia/HCA Healthcare. Weaver, who follows health stocks at Little Rock investment firm Stephens, discovered Columbia in 1992 at 12 a share. She sold 2 1/2 years later at 35--way before Columbia's travails.

"There still are niches in health care where just as much money could be made," says Weaver, who is now high on emerging dental-practice-management companies, an undiscovered sector that's ripe for consolidation.

Her picks in the group: Monarch Dental (MDDS), which manages practices for 200 dentists in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Texas, and Wisconsin; and Coast Dental Services (CDEN), which manages 60 centers in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia.

Monarch, now at 16 a share, and Coast, at 27, are the rapidly growing leaders in the $46 billion dental-care industry, says Weaver. Monarch is an experienced consolidator. She thinks earnings will grow 35% a year for the next three years. She expects it will earn 58 cents a share this year and 80 cents in 1999, vs. 1997's 26 cents.

Coast has also been widening its reach, buying practices at 70% of gross revenue. Weaver expects Coast, which plans to acquire a further 15 to 20 offices this year and open 20 new ones, will earn 80 cents a share this year and $1.10 next, up from 1997's 55 cents. She thinks Monarch stock will have an easy ride up to 22, and Coast to 39.

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