BankAmerica Corp. announced a broad restructuring on Thursday, laying out plans to slice 3,700 jobs worldwide and shut 120 branches in California next year.

The moves - the most significant since David Coulter became chief executive at the start of the year - were largely applauded by analysts. While the cuts will reduce fourth-quarter net income by $165 million after taxes, the bank said it expects to recover the charge through cost savings by the end of 1998.

"Eliminating positions is always difficult," Mr. Coulter said in a statement. "However, we have learned that it is better to take such action when the company is performing well, as BankAmerica is today." Bank officials would not specify where the bulk of the staff cuts would occur.

The layoffs - equal to about 4% of BankAmerica's staff - will occur in Europe, Japan, and California. About 46% of the reductions will come from wholesale operations, another 35% from retail, with the rest affecting support staff, Mr. Coulter said.

The bulk of the wholesale business cuts will be made in Europe, as part of BankAmerica's strategy to focus more on emerging markets, Mr. Coulter said. Analysts have expected the bank to restructure its European and Japanese operations.

"What we're seeing out of the Coulter administration is a real dedication to improving profitability and improving shareholder returns," said Carole Berger, a Salomon Brothers banking analyst.

BankAmerica's share price closed at $94 Thursday, down $3.25 on a day when investors unloaded bank stocks.

But Wall Street cheered BankAmerica's moves, and many analysts raised their 1997 earnings estimates by between 10 cents and 30 cents per share.

The California branch closings, which represent nearly 12% of BankAmerica's 1,014 traditional branches in the state, took some analysts by surprise.

"They have acknowledged that they were looking at the California branches but hadn't put a number on it, nor did they indicate that they would move this decisively," said R. Jay Tejera, a banking analyst with Dain Bosworth Inc. in Minneapolis.

The bank wants to increase its presence in supermarkets. It currently has about 400 in-store branches in California, and said it will add another 200 in Lucky Stores in 1997.

In Japan, most of the bank's restructuring will involve its Tokyo branch, where the staff has already been cut in half to 100. The office's traditional credit operations are being reduced in favor of an increased emphasis on capital markets, Mr. Coulter said.

He and bank officials stressed that the announcement was part of an ongoing review process that began even before Mr. Coulter took the reins from Richard Rosenberg last winter. In the third quarter of 1996, for example, BankAmerica sold 68 branches in Texas, reduced its stake in KorAm Bank, and purchased $1.8 billion of lease-related assets from Ford Motor Co.

"Given the changing dynamics of the industry, I certainly wouldn't rule out other decisions like this," said Peter Magnani, a BankAmerica spokesman.

Most of the branch closings will be in California, Mr. Magnani said, though he would not confirm if most of the job cuts would also take place here.

As for the 3,700 jobs to be axed, bank officials said some of those employees will be placed in other positions within the company and others will leave through retirement.u

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