The ascent of First Interstate Bancorp shares toward the $90 price range stalled, but only momentarily, after Alison A. Deans of Smith Barney Shearson cut her rating to "neutral," from "outperform."
"At this point, I'd be a holder, but I wouldn't put new money into it," Ms. Deans said. The analyst had advocated adding to positions in First Interstate until the stock reached the low $80 range. She said she decided to cut her rating when the stock price rose $1.125 Tuesday, to close at $81.
The shares were off $1 in early trading Wednesday after Ms. Deans' downgrading. Later, the stock resumed its climb after company officials said they expected to exceed consensus estimates of $8.73 in earnings per share this year.
Several analysts, including Ms. Deans, have said they expect the stock to reach a price in the low to middle $90's by year-end. But the others have maintained "buy" ratings at the current price.
Yield, Appreciation Touted
"Obviously, it's not the home run it was," Sandra J. Flannigan of Merrill Lynch & Co. said before the company's latest statement. But she said the stock still yields 3.7% and retains potential price appreciation topping 10%.
Ms. Deans said the company's statement would not alter her decision to downgrade the stock.
The Los Angeles bank holding company has impressed analysts with a remarkable recovery in recent years after its expansion into states such as Texas and Arizona, just as their real estate markets went bust.
Forgoing Loss Provisions
In March, bank officials underscored how far the bank has come by announcing they expected to take no provision for loan losses this year. At the same time, they tried to lay to rest speculation that the bank might be bought by Wells Fargo & Co., announcing their intention to remain independent and disclosing a 10% stock buyback program.
At first, shares fell on the news, presumably because investors who had expected the bank to be acquired were now selling. Several analysts, including Ms. Deans, issued reports recommending the stock based on the company's fundamental strengths.
George Salem of Prudential Securities Inc. said a union with Wells would not be in the best interests of First Interstate shareholders because it would increase their exposure to the California economy.
With interstate branching laws likely to be liberalized, however, Mr. Salem predicted First Interstate could have a number of suitors to choose from next year.