Investors have good reason to shun the stocks of banks that are aggressive acquirers, according to data compiled by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

A study by the New York investment firm showed that only two of 15 banking companies that made big acquisitions in 1997 and 1998 will meet their per-share earnings goals for 1999. In the worst case, First Union Corp. is falling 23.8% short since its April 1998 purchase of CoreStates Financial Corp.

The two winners are Star Banc Corp. of Cincinnati, which acquired Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee and took the Firstar name, and Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis, which acquired San Francisco's Wells Fargo & Co. and adopted its name. Both deals closed in November 1998 and were right on the earnings mark.

While shares of most merged banks have declined sharply, Firstar's price is up 25% since the Star deal was announced in July 1998, and Wells Fargo's shares gained 21%.

First Union of Charlotte, N.C., was off target with both CoreStates and Signet Banking Corp., which it bought in November 1997 and is expected to earn 22% less than its original estimates, based on projections by Keefe Bruyette. First Union's shares have fallen 21% since the Signet acquisition was announced.

Bank One Corp., which acquired First Chicago NBD Corp. in April 1998 and First USA Inc. in June 1997, missed its earnings target in each case by 14.9%. Keefe said. Its shares have dropped 12% since the First USA agreement was announced in January 1997.

Nashville-based First American Corp. -- since acquired by Amsouth Corp. of Alabama -- was expected to fall 15.9% short in its May 1998 acquisition of Deposit Guaranty Corp. of Jackson, Miss. Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp -- known as First Bank System before it purchased and took the name of U.S. Bancorp of Oregon -- is projected to miss its earnings target by 10.9%.

In an exception, U.S. Bancorp have risen 20% since March 1997. Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte is expected to be 16.8% below expectations in the acquisition by its predecessor, NationsBank Corp., of Barnett Banks of Florida. NationsBank's purchase of the former San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp. is off by 15.6%, Keefe said. Bank of America shares have dropped 14% since the Barnett announcement of August 1997.

SunTrust Banks Inc. of Atlanta is doing relatively well with its purchase of Crestar Financial Corp. of Richmond, Va., missing its target by only 3.5%. Its shares have fallen 20% since the July 1998 announcement.

"Not all bank deals are bad bank deals," said Keefe analyst Thomas F. Theurkauf. Some "did not overpromise with their expectations and were able to execute their deals well."

Skepticism about big-bank mergers has been spreading since First Union twice disappointed Wall Street this year with earnings revisions attributed to problems with CoreStates.

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