For the first time in three years, INC.'s annual academic exercise -- buying $100 worth of stock in each of its hundred fast-growing corporations -- has turned out happy. That is to say, up. The same $10,000 investment might have returned more with greater safety elsewhere, to be sure, but an 11% profit is nothing to be ashamed of. Particularly when the NASDAQ Industrials, the index that represents the average established industrial stock in the over-the-counter market in which no fewer than 91 of the INC. 100 were traded, outdid the latter only slightly for the same year to March 3.Ditto the index of the American Stock Exchange, which eight of the remaining INC. equities call home: the Amex, too, was barely into double digits for all the bullishness around.On the other hand, over on the New York Stock Exchange (where only one INC. stock is listed), the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- the year's most closely watched figure next to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit cover -- soared a spectacular 31%.

INC.'s modest gain notwithstanding, this was not the Year of the Emerging Company. The bust following 1983's speculative blow-off (when our proprietary blood spurted 72%) pretty much took care of that. But is the economy nearly thrice as good for old-line smokestack industries than for a research-and-development-driven batch of newcomers? Come on, don't smaller companies benefit from disinflation and declining interest rates and lower energy costs as much as big ones?

Of course they do. But the equities of our thinly capitalized companies haven't been arbitrarily tickled by the programmed buying and selling that helped send popular indexes to records. If speculation hasn't been the order of the day since 1983, neither has the good old buy-'em-and-keep-'em style of common-stock investment. What is the order goes something like this: sell short a stock market futures index, and buy the stocks that underlie that index. To own, however briefly, the Standard & Poor's 400 takes a bit of cash, which leaves me and maybe you out. But it lets in the managers of billion-dollar institutional portfolios.Street watchers say that arbitraging by institutions, whose computers play the spread between index futures and the underlying equities for foolproof profits, can contribute to as much as 60% of a market move. One difference between the members of our motley crew and the Big Board's is that at least INC.'s depend on serious intent to send them on their way.

For better or worse, the list that sprouts from INC.'s annual foray into the public fast lane seems safe from computerized shenanigans. At least no commodity exchange is yet trading INC. market futures or options, nor is one apt to, inasmuch as INC.'s lineup is recast every year. To calculate how the 100 fared compared with other indexes, INC. first determines the market price that prevailed 12 months back for each issue (adjusted for stock splits and stock dividends), then invests a fictitious $100 in it at that price. The resultant number of paper shares are sold one year later.

What is remarkable about the present collection, given the Street's unremittingly bullish atmosphere, is its unremarkableness. Indeed, slightly more stocks declined than advanced (53 to 47), but the latter carried the day (as is statistically proper, since rising stocks have no ceiling, whereas declines can't exceed 100%). Of those that pulled more than their weight, two stocks tripled, and nine more than doubled -- not bad, to be sure, but paltry compared with the 12 and 22, respectively, of 1983.

Nor did any industry group predominate, as did high technology three years ago. INC.'s best achiever was in low tech, you might say: up 236%, Insituform of North America Inc. (#89) licenses a patented pipe-lining process capable of fixing leaking underground systems without digging. Third-ranked Amgen (#58) leads the scattering of small biotech companies on this year's list, possibly foreshadowing the next hot technology arena, and fourth-place Consolidated Stores Corp. (#84) caps a generally strong year for retailing stocks.

But truly lower-technology King World Productions Inc. (#64), up 218%, owes its runner-up standing primarily to the visibility of "Wheel of Fortune," the popular television game show the company distributes. Gee, if you can do that well with random selections, maybe now is the time to market chances on next year's INC. 100. Or at least create a stock market index future from it.

INC. 100 MARKET PERFORMANCE

1986 $100

Company (symbol/exchange) rank 3/85 3/86 worth

1. Insituform of North America (INSUA/O) 89 $4.13 $13.88 $336.36

2. King World Productions (KING/O) n1 64 12.50 39.75 318.00

3. Amgen (AMGN/O) 58 5.50 15.00 272.73

4. Consolidated Stores (CNS/A) n2 84 8.50 22.00 258.82

5. V Band Systems (VBAN/O) 22 10.75 26.75 248.84

6. LyphoMed (LMED/O) n3 52 8.39 20.38 242.88

7. Ashton-Tate (TATE/O) 4 9.50 23.00 242.11

8.Circadian (CKDN/O) n4 59 6.25 14.00 224.00

9. Certified Collateral (CARX/O) n5 31 7.50 16.00 213.33

10. Priam (PRIA/O) 68 3.25 6.75 207.69

11. Tender Loving Care (I/O) 93 3.25 6.50 200.00

12. Sterling Software (SSW/A) 30 7.75 15.25 196.77

13. Jacor Communications (JCOR/O) 73 3.63 7.00 193.10

14. FONAR (FONRC/O) 82 4.88 9.38 192.31

15. Centocor (CNTO/O) 38 14.00 26.50 189.29

16. Manufactured Homes (MANH/O) n6 99 7.88 13.75 174.60

17. Compression Labs (CLIX/O) 62 6.25 10.75 172.00

18. Durakon Industries (DRKN/O) n5 78 8.83 15.13 171.23

19. Simmons Airlines (SIMM/O) n7 46 7.60 13.00 171.05

20. VLSI Technology (VLSI/O) 9 10.25 17.25 168.29

21. Solar Age Industries (SAMCU/O) n8 27 1.50 2.50 166.67

22. Western-World Television (WWTV/O) 56 1.38 2.25 163.64

23. Integrated Genetics (INGN/O) 21 4.13 6.75 163.64

24. Caremark (CMRK/O) 76 10.88 17.38 159.77

25. United HealthCare (UNIH/O) 49 8.75 13.88 158.57

26. Biomet (BMET/O) 71 17.00 25.00 147.06

27. Archive (ACHV/O) 26 6.25 9.00 144.00

28. Datacopy (DCPY/O) 77 4.88 7.00 143.59

29. High Plains (HIPC/O) 61 1.63 2.25 138.46

30. Comp-U-Card Int'l (CUCD/O) n9 48 19.50 26.75 137.18

31. Iomega (IOMG/O) 5 12.88 17.50 135.92

32. Electronic Tele-Comm. (ETCIA/O) n10 36 8.00 10.25 128.13

33. Expeditors Int'l of Washington (EXPD/O) 7 11.75 14.63 124.47

34. Saratoga Standardbreds (STGA/O) 32 2.38 2.88 121.05

35. Fibronics International (FBRX/O) n11 28 11.00 13.25 120.45

36. SIS (SISB/O) 50 5.00 6.00 120.00

37. Vitronics (VITX/O) 44 3.75 4.50 120.00

38. Forum Group (FOUR/O) n12 1 9.89 11.75 118.85

39. Cade Industries (CADE/O) 18 1.06 1.25 117.65

40. U.S. Intec (INTK/O) n13 15 15.75 18.25 115.87

41. Piezo Electric Prods. (PEPI/O) 2 0.25 0.28 112.50

42. 3Com (COMS/O) 13 9.88 10.88 110.13

43. First Centennial (FCLCA/O) n14 45 2.80 3.00 107.14

44. Jack Henry & Associates (JKHY/O) n13 97 6.75 7.00 103.70

45. Convergent Technologies (CVGT/O) 39 10.50 10.88 103.57

46. Allegheny & Western Energy (ALGH/O) 19 19.00 19.50 102.63

47. Interand (IRND/O) 92 14.50 14.75 101.72

48. Brentwood Instruments (BRWD/O) n4 40 7.50 7.25 96.67

49. Endevco (ENDV/O) 16 7.63 7.25 95.08

50. Ben & Jerry's Homemade (BJIC/O) n15 74 15.75 14.50 92.06

51. ORS Automation (ORSI/O) 35 $2.75 $2.50 $90.91

52. The Yankee Cos. (YNK/A) 95 6.88 6.13 89.09

53. Ziyad (ZIAD/O) 91 7.50 6.50 86.67

54. Jet America Airlines (JETA/A) 24 3.50 3.00 85.71

55. ALC Communications (ALCC/O) n16 3 10.00 8.50 85.00

56. American Businessphones (ABPI/O) 6 8.50 7.00 82.35

57. MBI Business Centers (MCOX/O) 70 13.25 10.50 79.25

58. Computer Telephone (CPTLA/O) n17 53 6.38 5.00 78.43

59. Medical Care Int'l (MEDC/O) 63 8.38 6.50 77.61

60. Shanley Oil (SOCM/O) 11 0.94 0.72 76.67

61. Harvard Industries (HAVA/O) n18 72 15.17 11.50 75.82

62. Medical Electronics (MECA/O) 23 1.66 1.22 73.58

63. Symbion (SYMB/O) 43 4.00 2.81 70.31

64. Artel Communications (AXXX/O) 42 7.88 5.50 69.84

65. Walker Telecommunications (WTEL/O) 17 12.13 8.38 69.07

66.Enzo Biochem (ENZO/O) 100 20.00 13.75 68.75

67. HealthAmerica (HMO/N) 20 19.50 13.13 67.31

68. DEST (DEST/O) n4 67 6.00 4.00 66.67

69. Helm Resources (H/A) 65 0.94 0.63 66.67

70. Energy Oil (EOI/A) 8 8.00 5.25 65.63

71. American Healthcare Mgmt. (AHI/A) 69 9.00 5.88 65.28

72. Ciprico (CPCI/O) n19 55 10.00 6.50 65.00

73. IDEA (IDEA/O) 96 8.75 5.38 61.43

74. Animed (VETS/O) 80 12.13 7.38 60.82

75. Buffton (BUFF/O) n20 33 7.50 4.50 60.00

76. Apollo Computer (APCI/O) 14 28.25 16.75 59.29

77. Alexander Energy (AEOK/O) 34 3.00 1.75 58.33

78. Ungermann-Bass (UNGR/O) 66 21.25 12.38 58.24

79. Telebyte Technology (TBTIU/O) 90 3.88 2.25 58.06

80. Patient Technology (PTI/A) 41 13.13 7.38 56.19

81. Applied Circuit Technology (ACRT/O) 94 2.13 1.19 55.88

82. American Surgery Centers (SRGY/O) 29 1.44 0.75 52.17

83. Reid-Ashman (REAS/O) 98 8.75 4.50 51.43

84. Alta Energy (ALTE/O) 85 0.50 0.25 50.00

85. C. P. Rehab (CRHB/O) 75 9.00 4.50 50.00

86. Telco Systems (TELC/O) 51 20.00 9.75 48.75

87. StarTel (STAS/O) 83 3.13 1.50 48.00

88. Personal Diagnostics (PERS/O) 57 7.13 3.38 47.37

89. Equatorial Communications (EQUA/O) 10 19.75 8.75 44.30

90. Consul Restaurant (CNSL/O) 87 5.50 2.38 43.18

91. Fuddruckers (FUDD/O) 25 11.13 4.63 41.57

92. G. D. Ritzy's (RITZ/O) 54 2.50 1.00 40.00

93. Plains Resources (PLNS/O) 88 1.88 0.75 40.00

94.Thermal Profiles (THPR/O) 79 12.75 4.75 37.25

95. Avant-Garde Computing (AVGA/O) 81 13.75 4.50 32.73

96. New York Film Works (NYFW/O) 47 0.06 0.02 32.00

97. Action Packets (APAK/O) 86 6.38 2.00 31.37

98. 1 Potato 2 (SPUD/O) 12 1.63 0.50 30.77

99. ComputerCraft (CRFT/O) 60 6.88 1.63 23.64

100. Time Energy Systems (TIME/O) 37 13.75 3.00 21.82

n1 2:1 split, 7/85

n2 first public, 6/85; 2:1 split, 11/85

n3 3:2 split, 4/85; 3:2 split, 11/85

n4 first public, 6/85

n5 3:2 split, 2/86

n6 2:1 split, 6/85

n7 5:4 split, 8/85

n8 first public, 8/85

n9 3:2 split, 3/85

n10 first public, 9/85

n11 3:2 split, 6/85

n12 10% stock dividend, 8/85

n13 first public, 11/85

n14 5:4 split, 6/85

n15 first public, 10/85

n16 first price as merged entity, 12/85

n17 first public, 5/85

n18 3:1 split, 4/85

n19 11:10 split, 1/86

n20 recapitalized 1/5:1, 10/85

RELATIVE MARKET

PERFORMANCE

3/1/85 3/3/86 % change

INC. 100 $100 $111 11

DJI 1,299 1,697 31

S&P 400 205 248 21

NASDAQ 311 357 15

Amex 228 257 13