Several analysts have raised their ratings on the stock of First Interstate Bancorp, which, along with many bank shares, has come down in price approximately 10% in the past few weeks.
On Monday, it fell 87.5 cents to $71.125. While rising rates are proving costly to some banks, analysts say First Interstate is well-positioned to benefit from the new environment. They figure this will be reflected in the stock price as investors begin to differentiate between bank issues after the continued broad selloff in the banking sector.
"Here's a company where if anything, estimates should go higher as rates go up," said David Berry, a director of research at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. Berry raised his rating to a "buy" on Friday. Merrill Lynch reportedly raised its near-term rating to "above average" from "neutral" on Monday.
Brent Erensel of UBS Securities and Mr. Berry said the banks's large fixed-income portfolio with a short duration can drive further loan growth in both the mountain states and California. The asset mix is changing to more profitable prime-rate loans.
Additionally, they said that virtually the entire balance sheet is funded by low-cost retail depostis, so that margins are likely to remain at least at current levels.
Mr. Erensel projects earnings of $2.36 for the fourth quarter, which would bring operating earnings in 1994 to $8.50, up from $6.45 last year.
He estimates earnings of $10.25 for 1995, which would make its current trading price seven times next year's earnings. Earnings estimates generally vary between $9 and $11 for next year.
Analysts point out that earnings estimates for 1994 and 1995 will be slightly. inflated, since the bank is taking no loan-loss proVision in either year.
The lack of loan-loss reserves does not particularly concern Mr. Berry, who points out that First Interstate ranked 11th among the 50 biggest banks in reserve-to-loan loss ratio. Mr. Berry adds that the reserve coverage of nonperforming loans is currently 450%, which is seventh-best among the top 50.
To be sure, there are analysts who are not as enamored with First Interstate. Some cite a potentially limited growth in the mountain states, as well as an earning's dilution from acquisitions they feel the bank may feel forced to make in the next year.
However, the analysts who look favorably upon the company place a great deal of confidence in chairman and CEO Edward Carson's ability to continue to grow a company he took from $17 at the end of 1990 up to a high of $85 this year.
In trading Tuesday, bank stocks continued to slip. The most heavily traded among the 50 biggest banks was Citicorp, which was down $1.875 to $41.50. A spokesman said the drop might reflect an unfounded concern about the bank's derivatives holdings.