Chase Manhattan Corp. is poised for growth, according to bank analysts at Credit Suisse First Boston.

Michael L. Mayo and Bradley G. Ball, who initiated coverage on the money-center bank Friday with a "buy," estimated that Chase will shave at least $300 million in operating expenses over the next 18 months while shifting assets to businesses with higher earnings potential.

"Marc J. Shapiro's job is to slash the bureaucracy and make Chase function more as a cohesive whole," said Mr. Mayo, referring to Chase's new vice chairman and chief financial officer, who moved to the New York bank this month from its Texas Commerce Corp. subsidiary.

"Chase, which has been in merger mode for the last five years, has destroyed the value (of its shares) to some extent," said Mr. Ball.

Through its mergers with Chemical Banking Corp. and Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Chase has become the largest bank in the nation. Trading at 11.7 times 1998's earnings estimates, the stock is viewed by analysts as inexpensive compared to that of its peers and expect it to reach $130 within six months. At midday trading on Friday, shares were down 6 cents at $114.312.

Emerging from a successful integration process, the analysts said, Chase is ready to focus on growth of its core businesses, shifting capital away from low margin assets such as home mortgages and RV Marine loans, and toward national consumer products such as credit cards and its global processing business.

The $300 million the analysts expected the bank to save would be in addition to the bank's stated $700 million of merger-related efficiencies.

Mr. Mayo said he was assured by management that a large acquisition of a brokerage firm, which could "hurt shareholders, is not imminent." Rumors that Chase would buy Lehman Brothers, Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette or another such have been percolating on Wall Street all summer.

Other banks, such as NationsBank Corp., First Union Corp., Bankers Trust Co., BankAmerica Corp., have acquired small brokerage firms at hefty price tags.

A Chase spokesman said the bank has set its goal of a 50% efficiency ratio-noninterest operating expenses over revenues-for 1999, but "has not discussed the timing or parameters of any expense related program."

Elsewhere on Wall Street, analysts released a spate of rating adjustments.

John J. Mason upgraded Carolina First Corp. to "strong buy" from "neutral." The veteran analyst said he believes rumors that the bank will be bought. The stock rose 8% in midday trading to $20.25.

Joseph K. Morford of BT Alex. Brown gave Greater Bay Bancorp a nod, raising it to "strong buy" from "buy," based on "strong internal growth" prospects. The Palo Alto-based bank is benefiting from Wells Fargo & Co.'s public troubles, stealing market share from the stumbling behemoth, the analyst said. It's stock gained 7.97% to $37.25 in midday trading.

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