First Union Corp. advised investors Tuesday to expect higher earnings growth and greater profitability by 2000 than originally forecast, thanks to its pending acquisition of CoreStates Financial Corp.
The Charlotte, N.C., banking company expects its earnings per share growth to reach 14% by the year 2000, up from an originally predicted 10% to 13%. The bank also said return on equity could rise to 22%, up from its 18% to 20% goal. Its efficiency ratio should improve to 50% to 54%.
"The recent CoreStates announcement spurred us to increase (our) goals once again," said First Union chairman and chief executive Edward E. Crutchfield Jr. in a press release. The bank added that its previous financial goals will apply if the merger is not completed.
While the new numbers sound impressive, most aren't actually much different from what First Union has been achieving lately.
For example, the bank reported earnings growth of 14% in third quarter and posted an efficiency ratio of 55%. Its return on equity of 19.8% has a ways to go to reach the bank's goal of 22%, but analysts pointed out that Philadelphia-based CoreStates had the highest return-on-equity rate of any major bank and so the goal should be reachable.
Shares of First Union rose Tuesday, to .
Analysts expressed confidence that First Union could meet its newly stated goals. "They are a stretch, but achievable," said R. Harold Schroeder of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., New York.
"For the next three or four years they'll be at the high end of those ranges," said Anthony R. Davis of SBG Warburg Dillon Read, New York. "They have been beating their own benchmarks, anyway."
Mr. Schroeder said the goal shareholders should pay greatest attention to is the bank's revised return-on-equity figure, because it could be achieved through increased revenue growth, expense cuts, or share buybacks.
Analysts observed the numbers are predicated on the bank not making another major acquisition that diminishes earnings between now and 2000. No one expects First Union to sit on the sidelines as banking consolidates, so many observers interpreted First Union's revised figures as an indication of its corporate strategy.
"I'm very confident in saying management won't accept any deal that dilutes these numbers," said Lawrence W. Cohn, research director at Ryan, Beck & Co., Livingston, N.J. "This bank is not interested in 'strategic deals' anymore."
Investment bankers say First Union remains keenly interested in expanding its franchise along the East Coast to as far west as Ohio. Although the number of companies that would fit First Union's current wish list is dwindling, the nation's sixth-largest bank is now so huge it could swallow such companies as Summit Bancorp, Princeton, N.J., Bank of New York Co., or PNC Bank Corp., Pittsburgh.
Nancy Bush, associate director of research at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co., New York, said First Union should be able to reach its revised goals for return-on-equity and return-on-assets quickly because those numbers at CoreStates were among the industry's highest.
"Even though earnings are CoreStates didn't grow much, it was a profitable company," she said.
One of the bank's more ambitious goals is to raise dividend payouts to 40%-45%, up from 35%. That would make its dividends the highest of any major bank, analysts said, and would require raising the dividend twice a year.