Hibernia Bancorp is in line to benefit from the midyear purchase of rival First Commerce Corp. by Bank One Corp., an analyst says.

The New Orleans banking company "is well-positioned as the in-town bank of choice," said Christopher Mutascio, banking analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker.

As the largest independent banking company in Louisiana, Hibernia already holds an impressive 22% share of the deposits in the state and is guided by strong management, analysts say.

Pulled back from moribund status by chairman and chief executive Stephen A. Hansel in 1992, Hibernia has spent the past few years diversifying its loan portfolio to reduce risk exposure, Mr. Mutascio said.

The company "has built an impressive consumer presence that acts as a healthy complement to an already strong commercial presence," he said.

In pre-holiday trading Wednesday, shares of Hibernia were up 12.5 cents, to $16.125.

At that level the stock is valued at just above 13 times 1999 earnings per share, or about twice book value. Mr. Mutascio expects the stock to hit $21 over the next 12 months, or 15.5 times his earnings estimate of $1.35 for 2000.

Elsewhere in bank stocks on the brink of the yearend holidays, BankBoston Corp. added 31.25 cents, to $39.875. Diana Yates of A.G. Edwards, St. Louis, reduced her fourth-quarter earnings estimate for the company by 4 cents, to 70 cents per share. She cut her full-year 1998 estimate by 16 cents, to $3.21.

The analyst explained that her action was meant to re-flect the added expenses for BankBoston of retaining employees of Robertson Stephens, the investment banking firm it is acquiring. BankBoston can expect to book the expense for each of the next 11 quarters, Ms. Yates said.

Aside from the Robertson Stephens expense, BankBoston will probably perform as expected into next year, posting solid growth in net income, sluggish growth in noninterest income, and well-contained expenses, Ms. Yates said.

Analysts are also looking to 2000 and beyond. Over the next few years larger-capitalization banks should enjoy annual growth in per-share earnings of 11% or more, according to Henry C. "Chip" Dickson, a banking analyst at Salomon Smith Barney.

Earning asset growth should help offset pressure on the net interest margin, causing net interest income to grow at a rate of about 3.5%, Mr. Dickson said.

Among regionals, per-share earnings should grow at a compounded annual rate of around 10% over the next five years, Mr. Dickson said.

The bank stock group should improve its return on assets and equity to 2.2%, he said.

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