Superficially, the news from Dart Industries might seem to foretell deep trouble. The Los Angeles-based company has sunk $75 million into recreational-land developments in California, and has been stymied in selling many lots by conflicts with environmentalists; on top of that, it is being sued for a total of $500 million by buyers alleging fraudulent land-sales practices. Even so, Chairman Justin Dart found a "plus factor" to report to New York security analysts in a recent speech. The plus, said Dart, was that "we're not planning any more developments of this type."

Dart's report was much more than a bit...

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