WASHINGTON -- Golden West Financial Corp., one of the largest and most profitable U.S. thrift companies, is questioning analysts' optimistic earnings forecasts.

"I wouldn't be awfully comfortable" with some analysts' per-share earnings projections of $4.50 or more, said Marion O. Sandler, the company's president and co-chief executive. "It doesn't mean we won't make it, though."

She declined to give her own estimate.

Six-Month Results

For the first six months of 1992, the $25 billion-asset savings and loan posted net income of $144 million, or $2.26 a share, compared with year-ago earnings of $114 million, or $1.80.

To reach $4.50 a share for all of 1992, Golden West would need to report earnings of $2.24 in the second half.

It earned $1.96 a share in the second half of 1991 and $3.76 for the year.

Ms. Sandler appeared last week at a financial services conference sponsored by Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co.

Investors' Favorite

The parent of World Savings and Loan Association of Oakland, Calif., Golden West has been a darling of institutional investors.

It has averaged an 18% return on equity for the past five years, while showing a slight 1.36% ratio of problem assets to total loans.

It stock price-$40.25 on Friday afternoon, up 75 cents - exceeds 1.5 times book value.

The thrift has a reputation for keeping costs low and "sticking to basics," illustrated by the bank's dearth of automated teller machines.

ATMs "are not really for the customers we appeal to," said Ms. Sandler. The average patron is 58 years old and "not into hardware."

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