Mercantile Bancorp.'s first-quarter earnings report has spurred analysts to lower earnings estimates.

According to First Call Corp. the mean, or consensus, 1996 earnings estimate among analysts that cover the stock tumbled to $3.69 from $3.95 during the week ending May 6. Seven out of 12 analysts adjusted their forecasts for the St. Louis banking company.

Mercantile was expected to post first-quarter earnings of as much as $1 share, but fell short with 70 cents a share. Including merger expenses from the bank's four recent acquisitions, analysts had forecast first-quarter earnings of about $35 cents per share. The bank reported a meager seven cents in earnings.

The result was "like a shot in the back of the head," said analyst Joseph Stieven of Stifel Nicholas & Co.

Mercantile's earnings per share were reduced by nine cents in the first quarter because it mispriced its Southwestern Bell Co. cobranded credit card, said James M. Schutz of the Chicago Group.

Analyst James Weber of A.G. Edwards, who lowered his 1996 earnings estimate to $3.60 from $3.90, said that "the credit card had too many convenience users," who were paying back their balances and not incurring finance charges.

Mr. Schutz added that earnings were also hurt by larger-than-expected chargeoffs and a slight dip in fee revenues.

Analysts pointed out that Mercantile had shown steady increase in its earnings for the previous four quarters.

During the first quarter of 1995, Mercantile earned 93 cents per share; it earned 99 cents a share in the second quarter, $1.02 a share in the third, and $1.05 a share in the fourth.

Despite the lowered estimates, Mercantile's stock has remained steady in recent trading. In March, the bank's share price fell from $46 to $44 when the company disclosed that earnings would be lower than expected. Since then shares have stabilized at the $44 level.

Shares closed Wednesday at tktktkt, off tktktktk.

Among the firms that cut 1996 earnings projections for Mercantile were Fox-Pitt Kelton, which lowered its estimate to $3.80 a share from $4.25, and Salomon Brothers, which lowered its forecast to $3.60 a share from $3.85.

Stifel Nicholas & Co. lowered its projection to $3.75 from $4.25; Piper Jaffray lowered its projection to $3.60 from $3.75; and A.G Edwards reduced its projection on Mercantile to $3.60 from $3.90.

In trading Wednesday, stocks dipped dramatically early in the session, and then roared back after the Federal Reserve reported that inflation was tame and economic growth was moderate.

The Standard & Poor's index of major banks rose 2.01%, while the overall S&P index rose 1.02%.

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