J.P. Morgan & Co.'s stock dipped only slightly Thursday - down 12.5 cents to $85.875 - despite a disappointing third-quarter earnings report (See story on page one). Shares of Bankers Trust New York Corp. fell 87.5 cents to $81, as analysts noted that its investment banking focus makes it vulnerable to the same problems that hurt Morgan. Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. analyst David Berry downgraded Bankers Trust to "underperform" from "market performer," citing an increasingly competitive market for Wall Street professionals. He said he considers Bankers Trust "the least strong of the money-center banks." He pointed to the recent troubles in the bank's trading operation, which might make the bank susceptible to staff turnover and increased costs to attract and keep talent. Mr. Berry did not change his 1996 earnings per share estimate of $7.25. Morgan cited "more competitive market conditions" as one reason for its weaker-than-expected quarter. "The more successful they've become in underwriting, the more bonuses they've had to pay to keep their staff," said Judah Krauschaar, analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. "That's pervasive throughout Wall Street." George Salem, analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co., downgraded Morgan to "hold"from "buy," and reduced his 1997 earnings per share estimates to $7.50 from $8. This turmoil aside, it was another quiet day for bank stocks. Analysts said investors were taking profits after last week's gains and waiting for more earnings reports. Nevertheless, disappointing news from some banks that have reported so far - particularly Morgan, Barnett Banks Inc., and First Bank System Inc. - has led at least one analyst to conclude that banks will need some luck to maintain their current prices. "We have some fundamental concerns about the market," said Thomas D. McCandless, analyst at Natwest Securities Corp. "Without a strong bond market to prop up banks stocks, the decelerating earnings growth we're seeing could knock some stocks that have been at the top of their trading range." Mr. McCandless yesterday reiterated "hold" ratings on State Street Boston Corp., Bank of New York, National City Corp., and Norwest Corp. He raised his third-quarter earnings per share estimate at State Street Boston to 89 cents from 77 cents and said the bank had "superb" credit quality. But he said all four banks' valuations have peaked. The news was brighter for smaller banks. Shares at Marshall & Ilsley Corp., a Milwaukee-based bank holding company, rose to a 52-week high of $32.875 during the day, and finished at $32.75, up $1.50.
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