Lackluster revenue growth in the third quarter hasn't discouraged analysts from recommending BankAmerica Corp.
They say cost cutting and management's commitment to its stock repurchase program will boost earnings per share, pushing the stock, which already hit a 52-week high this week, still further.
"Management is committed to returning excess capital to shareholders," said analyst Joseph Morford of Alex. Brown & Sons, who upgraded the stock to "buy" from "neutral" on Thursday, a day after the San Francisco bank reported earnings.
He noted that BankAmerica repurchased 2.5 million shares, (0.7% of the company's outstanding shares) during the quarter, and excluding the one- time charge to shore up the savings institutions insurance fund, its core earnings of $1.84 per share exceeded expectations.
Mr. Morford's left his 1996 earnings estimate of $7.25 per share unchanged, but raised his 1997 estimate of $8.30 from $7.95. His six-month to 12-month target price is $100.
BankAmerica stock rose 25 cents Thursday to $87. It had retreated Wednesday after breaking a 52-week high of $88 on Tuesday.
Analyst Katrina Blecher of Gruntal & Co. said that while "expenses are down and loan growth is staying decent, the margin is still getting hurt."
BankAmerica; however, still continues to be one of her "top picks" because "it is a cheap stock even though it has been one of the biggest gainers this year."
George Salem, of Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co., also has a "buy" on the stock, but sounded a note of caution. It is "perfectly legitimate to increase shareholder value through cost containment, but in the longer run you can't rely on the method," he said.
In other news, A.G. Edwards & Sons upgraded NationsBank Corp. and Boatmen's Bancshares to "accumulate" from "maintain position."
"Patient investors should take advantage of the weakness that occurred" after the merger announcement, said analyst David Stumpf.
Advest Group downgraded Mercantile Bancorp. to "accumulate" from "buy" based on price.