Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee, the product of a major midwestern merger, is the newest bank stock favorite on Wall Street, according to data supplied to American Banker by First Call Corp.

Analysts' consensus 12-month price target for Firstar is $81 per share, after giving effect to Friday's 3-for-1 stock split. That translates to a 137% growth rate from the $34.1875 closing price on Thursday.

"Firstar posted tremendous first-quarter earnings," said Fred A. Cummings of McDonald Securities in Cleveland. "It is clear to me that they are ahead of expectations in achieving cost savings from their merger."

Firstar was formed by the merger in 1998 of Firstar and Star Banc Corp. of Cincinnati.

The projected valuation growth rate for Firstar, derived from eight analysts, is the highest by far among the nation's 50 largest banking companies in market capitalization.

American Banker surveys the target prices monthly. Coverage by a minimum of four analysts is required for inclusion in the ranking.

In second place among banks as of April 15 was Hibernia Corp., New Orleans.

The consensus 12-month price target of $17.50 among five analysts translates to a 38.6% projected growth rate from the $12.62 price per share last week.

Hibernia last week reported a 28% decline in first-quarter earnings, but the stock found market support after its chief executive, Stephen A. Hansel, asserted that the company would "power through" its loan problems.

The investment community also likes National City Corp. The consensus target price among seven analysts for the Cleveland company is $87.71, a projected one-year growth rate of 25.9% from the April 15 price of $69.68.

U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis, which topped the survey in mid-February with a projected 12-month valuation growth rate of 44.6%, slipped to fifth place in mid-March with a 16.3% rate, on the strong performance of its stock.

This month, after a more modest performance while other bank stocks played catch-up, U.S. Bancorp's 12-month growth projection is 23.6%, based on a target price of $44.20 and an April 15 close of $35.75.

First Union Corp.'s projected valuation growth rate remained nearly unchanged at 23.5% in mid-April, from 23.8% in mid-March.

Also virtually unchanged was its consensus 12-month price target, among 10 analysts, of $69 instead of $68.25.

The minimal movement in these figures suggests that many analysts and investors remain in a wait-and-see mode after several major announcements from the company.

First Union surprised many in the market in late January with news that it would probably not meet earnings targets.

Then in late March, it said it would lay off 5,850 employees and take a $380 million restructuring charge that would affect first-quarter results.

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