Over the last month and a half, at least five stock analysts have trimmed their earnings estimates for First Interstate Bancorp.

The changes, which were made after discussions with management of the $57 billion-asset bank holding company, are based primarily on expectations that deposits and earning assets will grow at a slower rate than had been anticipated.

"They're not a surprise to us," said Christine McCarthy, an executive vice president of Los Angeles-based First Interstate. "Any analyst who has called us over the last six to eight weeks has been given the same guidance."

The investment banking and brokerage companies that have reduced earnings estimates include Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., Dain Bosworth Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co., Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., and Smith Barney Inc.

According to Ms. McCarthy, the driving force behind the reductions is a larger-than-expected decline in deposits in money market and NOW accounts.

These deposits accounted for $6.8 billion of First Interstate's average total deposits of $48 billion in the first quarter.

Ms. McCarthy did not say how much these deposits are expected to decline in the second quarter, but she explained that First Interstate officials believe that customers have been shifting some of that money to money market mutual funds that are paying higher returns. First Interstate does not believe the deposits are flowing to bank competitors.

Ms. McCarthy said the outflow has been declining recently. This is because most of the customers that would move their money already have done so.

The reduction in deposits is not curtailing loan growth, Ms. McCarthy added. Total loans grew 1.2% in the first quarter, excluding acquisitions, and is expected to grow between 5% and 7% for all of this year.

But the reduction in deposits is stopping growth in First Interstate's portfolio of investment securities, which totaled $12.8 billion in the first quarter.

As a result, growth in earning assets, which are the sum of loans and investment securities, is slowing.

Stock analysts cited these factors in reports accompanying their estimate changes. Dain Bosworth analyst R. Jay Tefera wrote that estimates "are coming down on indications from management that earning asset growth is slowing."

His 1995 per-share earnings estimate was cut to $10.75, from $11.55, while the 1996 estimate was reduced to $10.80 from $12.65. This is below the consensus estimate reported by First Call of $11.11 in 1995 and $11.40 in 1996.

Mr. Tefera said his previous projection of 4% to 5% growth in earning assets in 1996 was too high. He has now scaled back his expectation to 1% growth in 1996.

Growth of 7% in earning assets is expected in 1995. But this figure is boosted by acquisitions, which are not foreseen in 1996.

Merrill Lynch analyst Sandra Flannigan wrote in a report accompanying her May 23 estimate reduction that "a recent conversation with management suggests they will slow earning asset growth rather than undermine the company's historical low-rate funding base."

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