The analyst community remains divided on FleetBoston Financial Corp.
On Wednesday, Henry C. Dickson of Lehman Brothers upgraded the banking companys stock. On Tuesday, Diane L. Meridian of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. downgraded it. Mr. Dickson called Fleet a strong buy and said it is undervalued. He cited progress in its integration of Summit Bancorp, the Princeton, N.J., company it bought this quarter.
Fleets earnings could suffer some dilution this quarter, and revenues from its investment subsidiary Robertson Stephens will probably be lower than originally expected because of weak capital markets, Mr. Dickson said. Still, he predicted that its cash management business will grow 10%, and said management is focusing on core operations, so will not be trying to buy more big banks.
The chasm between perception and reality is the reason we are raising the rating, Mr. Dickson wrote in a research note. Fleet is currently trading at 9.84 times earnings, he wrote.
Ms. Meridian downgraded Fleets stock to outperform from strong buy and said that though she is generally positive on the company, she sees little upside for the stock.
It is one of the few bank stocks we like, she wrote in her report. However, she reduced her first-quarter target of per-share earnings by 5 cents, to 77 cents, and her full-year estimate 17 cents, to $3.38, citing sluggish revenues from capital markets.
Fleet had already divided the analyst community this month. On March 7, Diana Yates of A.G. Edwards & Sons upgraded its stock to accumulate from maintain. The following day, Mike Mayo of Prudential Securities initiated coverage with a sell rating. On March 9, Ruchi Madan of Salomon Smith Barney downgraded the stock to outperform from buy.
Mr. Dickson said he expects per-share earnings of 79 cents this quarter and $3.45 for the year, slightly lower than the First Call/Thomson Financial consensus of 80 cents and $3.51, respectively.
Fleets stock fell 2.57% Wednesday, to close at $32.08. The American Banker index of 225 banks lost 4.16%, as investors digested the market disappointment over a smaller-than-expected Federal Reserve rate cut on Tuesday. The Standard & Poors 500 index fell 1.8%, and the Nasdaq composite dropped 1.47%.
Meanwhile, Lana Chan of CIBC World Markets has raised her earnings estimates for this year and next for North Fork Bancorp of Melville, N.Y., by 5 cents.
Ms. Chan wrote in a report published late Tuesday that North Fork is among the best-positioned companies to benefit from Tuesdays Fed rate cut, and its margins should expand by 5 basis points this quarter and the next, which would lead to a 5-cent increase in full-year earnings.
She raised her earnings targets to $1.90 for this year and $2.10 for next, while her first quarter estimate remained at 45 cents, assuming a 12% profit increase from a year earlier.
On Wednesday, North Forks stock fell 1.05%, to $24.39.