First Union Corp.'s stock and its credibility were dealt a new blow after news that management had taken what analysts called some questionable steps to meet expectations for third-quarter earnings.

After missing Wall Street estimates in the second quarter, Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union managed to reach analysts' forecasts in the third quarter. However, as analysts learned Monday, that achievement was clouded by a pretax, $23 million nonrecurring gain that went unmentioned in the company's earnings announcement. The gain contributed 2 cents to earnings per share, enabling First Union to avoid a repeat of its second-quarter disappointment.

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