Banks are facing their toughest business climate in years, and at American Banker's quarterly roundtable, conducted March 12, analysts seemed certain of several things: Wall Street was overestimating bank earnings for the coming year (but perhaps underestimating profits for the thrifts), and first-quarter results would go a long way to resolving questions about the outlook for this year.

In a reversal of sentiment from recent roundtables, analysts cited out-of-favor banking companies like First Union Corp. and Bank of America Corp. as some of their favorite picks because of their low valuations, while high-priced stocks like Northern Trust Corp. were viewed more cautiously.

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