Barnett Banks' shares have pulled out of their slump.
Barnett has gained 8.4% this week and led Wednesday's rally among bank issues after unveiling a 9% hike in its quarterly payout, to 36 cents per share from 33 cents. The stock had declined 25 cents to $44.875 in late trading Thursday afternoon.
The price gains came after the Florida superregional raised its dividend and Merrill Lynch & Co. awarded a long-term "buy" rating to the stock.
The Florida bank's shares began a retreat in mid-March, a full month before the overall bank sector, whose pullback started after the release of the quarterly earnings in April. The stock bottomed at $41.62 last Friday, 17.4% below its peak.
The stock hit its 52-week high of $50.37 on March 10.
Sandra Flannigan, Merrill Lynch analyst, said that the big price decline had made the stock attractive on a longer-term basis. But she retained her "neutral" rating for the intermediate term of six-to-12 months.
The analyst said second-quarter earnings at Barnett are likely to be strong at 97 cents per share, versus 60 cents last year.
Problem-loan expenses are falling and cost savings from the First Florida Banks merger "are beginning to kick in," she said.
Question Mark on Income
But "revenue comparisons will probably be negative and can be expected to remain an issue" if lending volume remains sluggish for banks, she said.
That is because Barnett is focused more on interest income and less on fee income than some other banks.
The revenue question has given pause to other analysts who like Barnett.
Francis X. Suozzo and Thomas P. Facciola of S.G. Warburg Securities elevated earnings estimates for the bank after its strong first quarter, but they said its revenue momentum was nonexistent." They rate the stock a "hold."
Good Marks for Loan Mix
But they also said Barnett "has done an impressive job of shifting its loan mix in favor of consumer and small-business loans and away from low-margin corporate loans and commercial real estate.
This mix shift, combined with the company's strong position in Florida, should enable Barnett's loan growth to outpace the industry average. they said.
The Warburg analysts expect Barnett to earn $4.10 per share this year and $4.60 next year. Ms. Flannigan thinks the Florida bank will garner $3.85 this year and $4.30 next year.
'One of the Best'
J. Richard Fredericks of Montgomery Securities is more optimistic about Barnett, rating it a "buy" and calling it "one of the best franchises in banking."
Barnett's earnings, he said, are in a steep acceleration mode." He expects earnings of $3.80 this year and $4.50 to $4.75 next year. In 1992, the bank earned $1.97 per share.
Mr. Fredericks also noted that the company has stressed productivity, increasing assets $16 billion since 1987, or 68%, while the number of its employees has grown only 8%.
Last month, Charles E. Rice, Barnett chairman and chief executive officer, told shareholders at the annual meeting that higher productivity was the bank's "No. 1 goal."