Securities analysts are reducing their earnings estimates for most thrifts as a result of their third-quarter reports.

Many big savings and loans have been reporting declines in earnings, largely because of the consequences of the slump in mortgage originations. With the shift of consumer preference to adjustable-rate loans, the thrifts have been competing fiercely for ARMs business, and interest rate margins have suffered as a result. Tom O'Donnell of Smith

Barney Inc., New York, has trimmed his earnings estimates for Washington Mutual Savings for this year and next following the Seattle thrift's announcement that third-quarter net income fell to 63 cents a share, from 70 cents a year earlier.

Mr. O'Donnell cut his 1994 estimate to $2.45 from $2.50, but was considerably more bearish for next year. His call is now $2.55, down from $2.80. The analyst, says he is making the adjustment "because of a reduction in net interest margin assurnptious and an expectrid slowdown in loan growth." However, he is continuing his "outperform" rating on the stock.

Mr. O'Donnell also cut his estimates for Great Western Financial Corp., Chatsworth, Calif., to $1.47 from $1.50 for this year and to $2.20 from $2.40 next year. For H.F. Ahmanson & Co,, Invindale, Calif., he is dropping his call. to $1.82 for this year, from $1.90, and his 1995 estimate to $2.40, from $2.55.

Both companies reported that margin contractions had held down earnings in the third quarter.

At Salomon Brothers, New York, analyst Bruce Hatling says he has reduced his eamings estimates for most thrifts between 5% and 20%, with an average of about 12%. But he believes the big California institutions will be an exception. While he expects margins to remain narrow, he anucipates improved credit quality will push earnings up. Mr. O'Donnell, though, believes the big gains in credit quality are behind and margin contraction is the story of the year. He also warns that the smaller thrifts will be hit hardest by small margins.

He expects the bigger Califotma thrifts to rebound dramatically as the state's recovery gets under way in earnest.

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