FleetBoston Financial Corp.s stock has not been high on investors shopping lists recently, but some analysts believe it is in for a lift because the company is likely to produce more good news soon.
Fleets stock has suffered as a result of the companys slow commercial loan growth, a sluggish capital market, and the economic trouble in Argentina. However, with a package from the International Monetary Fund in place to prevent the Argentine government from defaulting on its debt, and strict government budget policies promised, the financial situation in the Latin American hot spot looks less daunting, analysts and economists said.
On top of that news, Fleet has created excess capital, and analysts say it is highly likely to buy back stock as soon as the legal restriction stemming from its March 1 acquisition of Summit Bancorp is lifted.
Many analysts have repeatedly said in recent months that Fleets stock has been unjustly punished for the trouble in Argentina. The company, which derives about 3% of its earnings from business in the South American nation, could absorb possible losses if Argentina defaults, they said.
Steven Wharton of Loomis, Sayles & Co. LP of Boston, which holds a stake in Fleet, said he is impressed with its second-quarter earnings from international lines of business, which grew 60% from a year earlier. A sizable part of these earnings came from Argentina and Brazil, he said.
On Aug. 21 the IMF announced that it would recommend to its executive board a 57% increase in Argentinas stand-by credit line, to $22 billion, and that this would increase the viability of Argentinas debt profile. A decision on the recommendation is expected early next month.
And as the debt situation improves, investors should see the good news reflected in Fleets stock price, Mr. Wharton said.
But other analysts said they were less certain.
Fleet will never really get benefit from a successfully run business in Argentina, simply because this is not a significant enough part of its earnings, said Mark Fitzgibbon, an analyst at Sandler ONeill & Partners LLP.
However, a share repurchase would be a definite catalyst for improvement, analysts said. As a result of its recent deals, Fleet now has excess capital of $2 billion on its balance sheet, Mr. Wharton estimated.
And analysts have made clear that they would prefer the company to buy back a sizable number of its shares right now rather than looking for another deal.
The company would be better off to show investors that they support their stock rather than looking for acquisition targets, Mr. Wharton said.
Mr. Fitzgibbon said that the company could be tempted to make a new deal, should the opportunity arise, but he was quick to add that some sort of buyback should be in the making, regardless of further acquisitions.
Denis Laplante of Fox-Pitt, Kelton Inc. said the operating environment for Fleet will get better soon. The company is more of a wholesaler than a retail bank, and that will create earnings momentum in the quarters to come, he said.
The pace of deterioration in the syndicated loan business will slow soon, he added.
Shares of Fleet rose 0.88% Thursday. The American Banker index of 225 banks fell 0.76%, and the Standard & Poors 500 index lost 1.7%.