Providian Financial, whose stock has been on a roll since the firm announced a settlement of charges regarding its late-fee policy in July, could rise as high as $160 a share in 12 months, according to an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons.

Analyst Joel J. Houck reiterated his "buy" rating for the stock and raised his target price by $25, to $160. He said he expects the company to earn $5.30 per share this year and $6.65 next year. His expects the stock to trade at 25 times next year's per-share earnings. "Investors will continue to focus on Providian's strong earnings-per-share growth and less on legal issues," he predicted. Providian's shares, which gained 10.74% last month, fell 62.5 cents Monday, or 0.52% to close at $118.75.

Monday was a good day overall for financial stocks. The American Banker index of the top 50 banks rose 0.64%, and the index of 225 banks went up 1.02%.

Providian's late fees have long been a target of customer complaints, and in May 1999 the San Francisco District Attorney's Office opened an investigation. On July 10 the company announced a settlement in which it agreed to pay $300 million in restitution to its customers and $5.5 million of civil fines.

Richard X. Bove, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates, initiated coverage of Providian the day after the settlement was announced. In a report on Monday he wrote that "the majority of Providian's current and potential customers were less aware of the issue than investors" and that the stock had rebounded sharply as financial stocks picked up momentum this summer.

Providian's efforts to reduce voluntary account attrition and limit its customers' unused credit lines will help it maintain "its healthy pace of growth for the foreseeable future," Mr. Bove said.

He reiterated his "buy" rating and said the company will earn $5.25 per share this year and $6.67 next year. His target price is $135, or about 18 times his earnings estimate for next year.

Mr. Houck said that Providian's fundamentals "will remain strong even in the midst of changes in its business model." He expects Providian "to maintain its leadership position in terms of being one of the most profitable credit card companies in the business," he said.

Providian's stock currently has a consensus rating of 1.4 on Thomson/First Call's 1-to-5 buy-to-sell scale.

Bruce W. Harting, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, affirmed his "neutral" rating for the stock. This is despite the fact that concerns about a possible recession and the district attorney's investigation have been resolved, he said. His price target is $125 a share.

Elsewhere in the market, analyst Jeffrey A. Miller of Pennsylvania Merchant Group downgraded Wilmington Trust Corp. of Wilmington, Del., to "hold" from "buy." The stock is close to his $55 target price, with little potential to exceed it, he said.

Wilmington Trust fell 25 cents Monday, or 0.47%, to close at $52.875. It has a strong asset management business and has less interest rate risk than most banking companies, deriving 43% of its income from fees, Mr. Miller said. However, he added that he would stick with his price target, which is based on 12.5 times his per-share earnings estimate of $4.37 for next year.

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