National City Corp. received two downgrades from Wall Street analysts on Wednesday, a day after the Cleveland company reported a decline in fourth-quarter net income and told analysts to reduce their expectations for the coming year.
The company restructured its balance sheet last year by exiting auto lending and wholesale consumer lending. On Tuesday it announced profits fell 10.3% from a year earlier, to $308 million, or 50 cents per share. The average analyst estimate for the companys profits this year was $2.33 per share, but management told investors to expect per-share earnings of between $2.12 and $2.22.
Operating earnings per share remained flat, at 55 cents, in line with the analyst consensus. However, Kenneth F. Puglisi of Sandler ONeill & Partners, who had estimated the company would earn 58 cents, downgraded the stock on Wednesday to outperform from buy.
In his research note, Mr. Puglisi wrote that the companys lowered expectations for earnings this year could result in some short-term pain for the stock.
Seth L. Elan of Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va., also downgraded the stock, to market perform from accumulate.
Although we anticipate that National City will participate in any group rally in anticipation of Fed action, we believe that at $30 per share, the stock is fully valued, given current fundamentals, he wrote in his note.
Since National City announced its restructuring plans in July, its shares have appreciated 42.59%. On Wednesday they closed unchanged, at $28.875.
Meanwhile, some analysts said they were optimistic about American Express Co., despite sluggish results in the companys financial advisory business and its warning that it expects profits to rise only 12% this year, instead of the 12% to 15% long-term target it had set.
Since hitting an all-time high of $63 on Oct. 2, Amexs stock value has fallen 28.6%. Robert P. Napoli, an analyst in the San Francisco office of ABN Amro, said that drop is an overreaction to the companys 2001 outlook. I hope analysts stay bearish on the stock for a while, because that makes it a buying opportunity, he said.
Michael R. Hughes of Merrill Lynch & Co., who upgraded Amex to a near-term buy from near-term accumulate, said he is generally bullish on financial stocks. Since investors seem to prefer large, liquid companies, American Express stock, among others, could rally if the Federal Reserve, as expected, cuts interest rates next week and later this year, he said.
However, Moshe A. Orenbuch of Credit Suisse First Boston, who reiterated his hold rating for the company, wrote in a research note that this quarter will be an even tougher compare for Amex, as there will likely be a full quarter of slower spending.
American Express shares fell 25 cents, or 0.54%, to $46.25.