Bank analysts expressed dismay and disappointment in the wake of Meridian Bancorp's acknowledgement that it will report third-quarter earnings at least 15% lower than expected.

At the same time, the Reading, Pa.-based bank said it would take an $8 million restructuring charge in the third quarter as it consolidates its mortgage origination and servicing subsidiary, Meridian Mortgage Corp.

Consensus estimates for the bank's third-quarter net income were running at about 80 cents per share, or $46 million, according to David Sparks, the bank' s vice chairman and chief financial officer. Meridian said Wednesday that earnings w'fil come in between 62 cents and 67 cents per share, or between $36 million and $39 million.

Meridian earned 60 cents per share in the same period last year, or $34.6 million.

Analysts lamented the sudden weakening in Meridian's earnings expectations, particularly because it follows a less than stellar second quarter. The bank reported earnings of 70 cents per share, or $40.7 million, a 6% drop from the 75 cents per share, or $43.5 million, it showed at Jane 30, 1993.

"This management had been relatively bullish about its outlook on eammgs for the third quarter," said Dennis Laplante, an analyst at FoxPitt Kelton. "A couple of months later they come back and take the additional hits. Right now, Meridian has a credibility problem."

The bank's stock price dropped $1.125 to $27 after the announcement Wednesday, but then recovered slightly to close Thursday's trading at $27.75.

Mr. Sparks blamed the sudden downturn in Meridian' s third-quarter expectations on poor performance in the bank's Ft. Lauderdale. Fla. brokerage unit, Meridian Securities Inc.

An internal investigation last week revealed that the bank's head trader "did not liquidate positions quickly enough during a time when market conditions declined," Mr. Sparks said.

Although Mr. Sparks would not name the head trader responsible. he said the executive is currently under suspension and "it is not clear whether it is in his best interest or ours to have him return to that position."

Mr. Sparks called the trading problem "an isolated incident. Are we satisfied the portfolios are marked appropriately and valued appropriately? Yes," he said.

Meanwhile, analysts groused about the restructuring charge that will help cover Meridian's exit from the mortgage servicing business.

Mr. Sparks defended the company's move. "We had hoped it would he completed" in the second quarter. he said. but the bank did tell analysts. and did disclose in documents, "that if there was continued declines in our activity we would continue to downsize the company," he said.

The mortgage company and the brokerage firm are not the only problems the bank has had with its nonbank subsidiaries. In 1990. the bank was forced to sell its title insurance business as a result of poor management and a lack of oversight, analysts say.

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