Chemical Banking Corp. is expected to announce eagerly awaited details of its cost-cutting plan at a meeting with analysts today.
Anticipation of the meeting in New York kept the company's stock afloat last month, while the rest of the industry sank. Analysts said Chemical's shares could slip on a disappointing announcement, or continue to surge if expectations are met.
The expectations are that Chemical will lay off 2,000 workers and announce anywhere between $300 million and $500 million of expense savings through 1996. The bank also is expected to abandon its New Jersey expansion strategy by leaving the central and southern parts of the state.
Chemical's stock price was stable in November while the American Banker index of 225 bank stocks lost nearly 7% and shares in other money centers fell by more than that. Between the beginning of last week and Tuesday's close, Chemical surged 6%, while bank stocks overall were flat.
Investors regard Chemical as a bargain, trading at less than book value with a dividend yield of 4.9%. But it is today's long-awaited analysts meeting that has attracted their interest.
"There is anticipation that Chemical will announce a program that will be perceived as being credible [and sufficient] to maintain earnings-per-share growth going forward," said Diane B. Glossman of Salomon Brothers Inc.
"Management is cognizant of the need to announce something credible, and the need to execute against that plan," she added.
While revenues have grown rapidly since Chemical's megamerger with Manufacturers Hanover two years ago, expenses have also risen higher than expected.
As a result, Chemical earlier this year outlined a four-part expense reduction program, encompassing outsourcing, staffing, corporate initiatives, and gains at Texas Commerce Bancshares, Chemical's wholly owned Texas subsidiary.
The bank has a number of internal restructuring efforts underway, and has already shed several New York branches.
Some analysts warned that if savings don't exceed $300 million, investors could take it out on the stock.
"If it is less than $300 million, people will be disappointed," said Larry Vitale of Bear Steams & Co.
But Paul A. Mackey of Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. said Chemical would not have hyped the meeting if it did not have something positive to say.
Mr. Mackey has a "buy" on the stock, calling it a superb value. It is trading at 94% of book value, he said. What's more, he added, its already-high dividend may rise in the near future.
High expenses have been an eyesore, he said, but that only means there is room for improvement. If Chemical does indeed shed much of its New Jersey operation -- rumors have it selling anywhere between one-half and two-thirds of its 140 branches there -- it would mark a setback for the money center.
Since its 1986 acquisition of Horizon Bancorp propelled the bank into the state, Chemical has never been able to gain the asset mass to make it a major player. Chemical has just under $6 billion of assets in New Jersey.
In trading Wednesday, Chemical fell 37.5 cents to $36.375. Shares in Mellon Bank Corp. were unchanged after the company announced a three million-share repurchase program, affecting 2% of its total common shares outstanding.
Central Fidelity Banks fell 50 cents to $26.50 after announcing a $40 million fourth-quarter charge because of securities losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up .68 points at 3,739.23, shrugging of the inflation potential in the higher-than-expected third-quarter Gross Domestic Product of 3.9%.