Blaming rising mortgage prepayments and higher expenses, Florida's largest independent savings bank is forecasting lower-than-expected earnings this quarter.

Alan B. Levan, chairman of BankAtlantic Bancorp, Fort Lauderdale, said the company will earn less this quarter than the $6.3 million it made in the first quarter in 1997.

The thrift has been hurt by the record number of customers who are prepaying their residential mortgages. Mr. Levan said $3.1 billion-asset BankAtlantic has reinvested the prepaid funds but that the yields on those investments are lower than those on the mortgages. At the same time, acquisitions and start-up ventures have driven up BankAtlantic's expenses, Mr. Levan said.

Richard X. Bove, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla., said BankAtlantic will be one of a number of community banks hurt this quarter by mortgage prepayments.

"It's not a BankAtlantic problem, it's an industry problem," Mr. Bove said.

Nevertheless, BankAtlantic's announcement left some Florida bank analysts concerned that the thrift is in over its head.

"The rest of the industry is meeting or exceeding earnings expectations, so when you fall below, it clearly raises eyebrows," said Ken Thomas, an independent bank analyst and consultant in Miami.

Mr. Thomas said BankAtlantic's nontraditional business ventures have been ambitious for a thrift its size and may cost more to integrate than executives had planned.

In the past year, BankAtlantic has hired about 80 people from other Florida banks to help create an electronic banking service, a telemarketing department, and an international banking division.

The thrift has also spent money trying to attract small-business customers and expand its presence in the Tampa Bay and Miami markets. It also this week bought an equipment leasing firm for $9.3 million of stock.

Still, the analysts said, BankAtlantic could recover by the second or third quarter as Mr. Levan has promised.

"I've been skeptical in the past," said Samuel Beebe, a bank analyst and manager of the Beebe Fund. "But every time they do something that's off the wall, somehow they're able to make it work."

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