Debt refinancing and merger-related charges created a fourth-quarter loss of $55 million at Golden State Bancorp, the company said Tuesday.

Earnings per share of 35 cents missed the consensus estimate by 2 cents.

But analysts said they were pleased with the results. "You should look at this as a new company that is doing very well," said Thomas O'Donnell, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney in New York.

Golden State was acquired in September by First Nationwide Holdings, the parent company of California Federal Bank. The deal, which was structured as a complicated "reverse merger" transfer of stock, makes historical earnings comparisons difficult.

For the year, the thrift company reported profits of $248 million, or $3.04 per share.

The fourth-quarter loss was due primarily to one-time charges of $88 million for the debt refinancing and nearly $16 million after taxes for the merger.

Excluding the special items, the $54.8 billion-asset thrift reported an 80% jump, to $265 million, in net interest income, largely from the merger and gains on mortgage-backed securities.

Noninterest income declined by more than 13%, to $94 million, mostly because of a drop in loan servicing fees. Fees declined 23%, to $27 million.

Golden State blamed the drop on accelerated amortization of mortgage servicing rights, which occurred because of a spurt in prepayments.

Retail banking fees and service charges increased 55%, to $42 million, fueled by an increase in checking and transaction-related accounts.

Analysts said Golden State has made significant progress in its merger integration. Carl B. Webb, the thrift's president and chief operating officer, said the process is moving faster than hoped.

"We expect to achieve the full run-rate of our projected expense save from the merger by mid-1999," well ahead of yearend as originally scheduled, he said.

Golden State hopes to achieve some other ambitious goals in 1999, analysts said. For example, in a conference call Tuesday morning, Mr. Webb said his company aims to boost loan originations this year by half, according to Charlotte A. Chamberlain of Jefferies & Co., Los Angeles.

She said this would be a challenge, especially since the California Association of Realtors recently predicted 20% fewer home sales in the state this year.

"That's a pretty high goal Golden State has set for itself," she commented. +++

Golden State Bancorp San Francisco Dollar amounts in millions (except per share) Fourth Quarter 4Q98 4Q97 Net income ($55.2) $30.6 Per share (0.40) 0.54 ROA (0.41%) 0.39% ROE (13.75%) 33.01% Net interest margin 2.55% 2.68% Net interest income 265.4 147.5 Noninterest income 93.9 108.4 Noninterest expense 260.8 170.4 Year to Date 1998 1997 Net income $247.8 $94.9 Per share 3.04 1.67 ROA 0.63% 0.31% ROE 27.38% 27.42% Balance Sheet 12/31/98 12/31/97 Assets $54,812.3 $31,362.2 Deposits 24,620.1 16,202.6 Loans 30,280.9 19,424.4 ===

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