As many as 10 banking companies may be in for a price boost through addition to the S&P 500 stock index, according to one Wall Street analyst.
Additions are expected since recent mergers have left openings in the index, the best-known general barometer of the stock market. Typically, stocks are boosted when they join the S&P 500 because of higher visibility and the popularity of index-fund investing.
Jacqueline Reeves of Salomon Smith Barney Inc. said her list of S&P 500 candidates includes:
Marshall & Ilsley Corp., with a market capitalization of $6.1 billion; SouthTrust, $5.9 billion; Popular Inc, $4.8 billion; Zions Bancorp, $4.8 billion; First Tennessee Corp., $4.7 billion; Old Kent Financial, $4.7 billion; First American Bancorp, $4.5 billion; M&T Bancorp, $3.7 billion; First Security Bancorp, $3.6 billion; and North Fork Bancorp, $3.1 billion.
How much does S&P 500 membership help a stock?. Ms. Reeves noted that between August 1997 and February 1998 the six banking companies that were added to the index rose an average of 11% on the day of the announcement.
The most recent bank addition to the index, this week, was Amsouth Bancorp. Its shares were up $3.8125, on the news, then closed at $48.6875, up 12.5 cents on Thursday.
Ms. Reeves recently raised her ranking for the company to "buy," saying Amsouth should expand its earnings per share by 14% to 15% annually over the next few years, up from her previous assessment of 12%.
"An explosion of fees from its annuity business, along with solid growth in trust and mortgage banking, should be the primary drivers," Ms. Reeves said.
The strong growth outlook warrants inclusion of Amsouth among higher- performing banks that she follows, Ms. Reeves said. That group trades at more than 20 times the bank's 1999 estimate.
For the day, the Standard & Poor's bank index added 1.31% and the Dow Jones industrial average 1.12%. The Nasdaq bank index rose 1.09% and the S&P 500 1.08%.
Shares of First Union Corp. were up following a reiterated "buy" recommendation by Frank J. Barkocy, banking analyst at Josephthal & Co., New York. The stock closed at $52.1875, up 93.75 cents.
Mr. Barkocy said plans by First Union executives to meet Thursday night with sell-side analysts could "be a positive platform to restore credibility."
First Union's stock took a hit late last month, when the company said it would fall short of performance expectations.
Three banking companies saw shares rise on news that they planned stock buybacks.
PNC Bank Corp. was up 62.5 cents, to $51.3125, after saying it would repurchase up to 15 million shares, or 5%, of its outstanding stock in open market or privately negotiated transactions.
First Midwest Bancorp rose $1.75, to $36.375, after saying it would buy up to two million shares, or 7%, of its outstanding stock.
Flushing Financial Corp. was up 12.5 cents, to $16, after indicating it would buy up to 540,000, or 5%, of its outstanding stock.
Banking companies hope buybacks will increase the value of their outstanding stock by making fewer shares available.