Tired of wild swings in the stock price of National City Corp., its management has decided to try changing its ownership mix.

The Cleveland banking company is making a concerted effort to create a "more balanced shareholder base" by attracting individuals, said chief financial officer Robert G. Siefers.

Only 29% of National City's stock was owned by individuals in 1993, but their share had risen to 48% by the end of this year's second quarter, according to CDA/Spectrum Research Services.

Part of the increase was due to National City's 1996 acquisition of Integra Financial Corp., which had few institutional owners.

But National City has also marketed its stock to individual investors. "Over the last three years, we've really seen the fruits of our labor," Mr. Siefers said.

The advantage, he said, is that individuals are less likely to sell their stock based on knee-jerk reactions. "Sometimes the movement of our stock was puzzling," Mr. Siefers said.

To attract shareholders, National City executives made numerous pitches at investment clubs around the nation. The company even played host to the annual meeting of the National Association of Investors Corp. in Cleveland last August.

National City has also introduced a plan that gives stockholders a 3% discount from the average market price when they reinvest dividends. The plan is marketed to long-term shareholders.

In addition, the $52.7 billion-asset company offers a program under which individuals can buy their first shares of the company's stock without going through a broker or paying a sales commission.

National City isn't the only big bank with large retail ownership. NationsBank Corp., the third-largest U.S. banking company (assuming completion of its deal for Florida's Barnett Banks Inc.), is 50%-owned by individual investors as a result of buying other retail-oriented banks in recent years.

First Chicago NBD Corp. is 47.5%-individual-owned due to its creation through the merger of retail-oriented NBD Bancorp with the largely institutionally owned First Chicago Corp. in 1995. "We don't have a target," said spokesman Thomas Kelly. "We seek both kinds of investors."

Overall, the top 50 banks were 55%-owned by individual investors at June30, according to CDA/Spectrum. However, the proportion of institutional ownership has been on the rise.

Indeed, a number of large institutional owners remain at National City. FMR Corp.'s Fidelity Investments owns more than 8.2 million shares, or about 3.8%, of the company.

Institutional investors offer greater liquidity, said analyst Joseph Duwan of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "You do need liquidity," Mr. Duwan said, "if someone wants to sell 10,000 shares."

Despite the efforts of some large banks, Mr. Duwan said, he believes it's going to be increasingly difficult to maintain high levels of individual ownership. Small shareholders typically look to institutions, such as mutual fund companies, to invest their money.

"Generally, even retail Mom and Pop investors today are not buying directly," Mr. Duwan said. "They buy from mutual funds."

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