New York's Citicorp capped an extraordinary half-decade odyssey on Friday as the price of its common stock reached $100 per share.
Less than five years ago, in December 1991, Citicorp shares traded below $10 as the venerable money-center institution worked to recapitalize itself amid the American banking industry's worst crisis since the Depression.
"What has happened to Citicorp's stock typifies the rebound of the banking industry in this country," said James J. McDermott Jr., president of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., the New York firm specializing in bank securities.
"In the worst of times this company epitomized the industry's difficulties," he said. "And today it epitomizes banking's good fortunes."
Many of Wall Street's bank analysts expected Citicorp's stock to eventually arrive at the century mark, but most felt the trip would take longer.
"Did I think it would reach this price level? Yes. Did I think it would happen this soon? No," said Lawrence W. Cohn of PaineWebber Inc.
"I did not think it would happen this year," said Frank R. DeSantis Jr. of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp., among only a few in the investment community who recommended the shares at their lowest point.
After touching $100 at 9:39 a.m. Friday, the stock eased back and closed at TKTK. The shares have risen nearly 50% in value since the end of last year.
Citicorp today is by far the nation's largest capitalization bank stock, with a recent market value of $42.9 billion.
Arthur P. Soter, an analyst at Morgan Stanley & Co., which advised Citicorp during its difficult recapitalization period in 1990-91, offered a reason why the bank's stock has achieved such momentum over the past several years.
"I think many investors initially found it hard to invest in a company whose senior management hadn't changed," he said. "Later, as the stock rose to $20, $30, $40 and beyond, they began to feel they had missed it."
While Citicorp has been involved in no major mergers and is run by the same chief executive officer, John S. Reed, few U.S. banks have changed as dramatically in the past five years.
"The thinking processes at Citicorp has undergone such a profound change that is has been akin to a religious conversion in strategy and operating style," Mr. McDermott said.
"This is a company that once did not put much premium on reserves and capital, to say the least," he noted. "And where once it was felt there were basically no limits to growth in a whole variety of businesses, today there is a much more disciplined approach."
But the breakneck rise in the stock price has given seasoned watchers reason to pause.
"I have said I would not downgrade this stock for valuation reasons because I think it deserves to trade at a premium ," Mr. DeSantis said. "But at these prices my 'buy' rating is more like a 'don't sell' rating."
While the stock has soared this year, the analyst has not found a good reason to raise his 1997 earning estimate for Citicorp beyond $8.50 per share.
"The composition of earnings has deteriorated somewhat and expenses have been running at a fairly healthy clip relative to revenues," he said.
Mr. DeSantis noted that "for the first quarter in a while they failed to deliver on their 2-to-1 incremental revenue to expense promise."
Earnings have recently been helped by a low loan-loss provision and the company's stock repurchase program, which Mr. DeSantis said may be increased when Citicorp's directors meet next, on Nov. 19.
Still, the analyst sounds far more comfortable than he did five years ago, when he recommended the stock at $14 and watched it fall below the $10 level for the first time since 1980.
"If the market wants to think 14 times earnings is realistic, I'm along for the ride," he said.
Citicorp's biggest selling point in recent years has been its global franchise. The company has benefited greatly from rapid economic growth rates in the "emerging markets" of Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.
In this country, Citicorp has taken steps to protect its position as the largest credit card issuer, but has otherwise maintained a low profile, even in its New York home market.
"My sense is that they are playing defense at home and offense in the rest of the world," said Mr. McDermott. He suggested that might change someday if the economic growth rates rise in this country and rapid consolidation of the banking industry continues.
"They have only been an observer in the consolidation process," he said. "Right now, I think they're content that way, watching the superregionals and the changes in the credit card business.
"But at some future date, when things have matured and they feel the time is right, that attitude could shift," he said.
More immediately, analysts wonder if Citicorp's stock will be split now that it has hit the $100 mark.
"They have a significant retail component to their ownership and they may very well feel that a lower stock price attracts more interest," said Mr. McDermott. "I anticipate both a split and a dividend increase in December," said Mr. DeSantis.
The company itself had no comment on Friday about the milestone for its stock. Indeed, the mood at Citicorp's New York headquarters was described as subdued after the death of a bank officer, David F. Tobolla, in a Brazilian plane crash.