OMAHA -- Commercial Federal Corp., the largest thrift company in Nebraska, has recovered to the point where it can consider making acquisitions, said William A Fitzgerald, president and chief executive officer.

Mr. Fitzgerald said the company is just barely in that position. Its shares are still trading at only about $13, or 59% of the company's $22 book value.

But the market price is vastly improved from its $1.625 low point in August 1990.

It is a measure of the company's rebound that Mr. Fitzgerald says analysts' earnings forecasts are "comfortably doable."

The parent of Commercial Federal Bank is expected to earn about 40 cents a share this quarter, the first of its fiscal year, up from 35 cents a year ago.

Drop in Nonperformers Seen

Mr. Fitzgerald said the company should also surpass one analyst's prediction of $1.60 a share for the full fiscal year.

"We are looking for a 25% decline in nonperforming assets that the analysts didn't take into account," he said in an interview. "That's worth about 15 cents to 18 cents a share for the year."

Nonetheless, earnings for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, will certainly fall from last year's fully diluted $37.2 million, or $4.43 a share.

The company has essentially finished a balance-sheet restructuring that yielded nonrecurring gains last year.

Back to Basics

In fiscal 1993, Mr. Fitzgerald said, income will flow mostly from more traditional savings and loan activities.

"Our long-term thrust is to stay in [making and servicing] single-family mortgages and consumer loans and to excel in returns," he said.

This more fundamental strategy was prompted by regulatory oversight after the 1989 thrift-reform law.

Mr. Fitzgerald cited several factors that he said bode well for the company, which has $4.6 billion in assets and does most of its business in Nebraska and Colorado.

Healthy State Economies

One is Nebraska's 3% unemployment rate, the lowest in the nation. Likewise, Colorado -- where Commercial Federal has had problems with commercial real estate loans - has seen its jobless rate fall to about 5%.

Troubled commercial real estate in Colorado is "moving out the door," Mr. Fitzgerald said, and the portfolio restructuring has led to higher returns through the purchase of favorably priced single-family mortgages.

He estimated Commercial Federal's market share in Nebraska at about 13% and in Denver at 4.5%.

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