Fourth Financial Corp. announced Friday that a balance sheet overhaul would result in a $14.4 million after-tax earnings charge in the first quarter.

But the stock of the Wichita, Kan.-based bank was only off 12.5 cents on Friday to close at $33, as investors and analysts speculated the company might be cleaning house for a sale.

"If this had been a larger bank not talked about in terms of being a target, there may have been more of a penalty," said Anthony Lombardi of Dean Witter Reynolds.

"Anytime a bank (with a takeover profile) is realizing losses of this magnitude, merger speculation increases," he said.

Takeover rumors have swirled around the $7 billion-asset bank for months. Norwest Corp., First Bank System Inc., and Boatmen's Bancshares are said to be the most interested acquirers.

Fourth Financial would not comment.

As part of the restructuring, Fourth Financial sold approximately $424 million of low-yielding, fixed-rate securities with an average duration of 2.7 years.

The proceeds "are being used to reduce short-term borrowings and reinvest in variable-rate or short-term instruments," said Darrell G. Knudson, Fourth Financial's chairman and chief executive.

The moves will only lessen the bank's interest rate sensitivity, not eliminate it, said Dean Witter's Mr. Lombardi.

Fourth Financial has a high concentration of securities, he said. The bank's roughly 74% ratio of securities to loans compares with an industry average of about 44%, Mr. Lombardi said.

If the bank is not preparing for a sale, then further moves may be in the offing, the analyst said, such as a dividend hike or an expanded share- repurchase program.

A number of institutions, including Banc One Corp. and Keycorp, were caught top heavy with short-term funding when rates rose last year. They have sold portions of their long-term securities holdings to limit further rate exposure.

Separately, Crestar Financial Corp. last Friday announced a 1.5-million- share repurchase program, or 4% of total shares outstanding.

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