Analysts are adjusting their ratings on NationsBank Corp., saying the stock may have reached a plateau after a recent price surge.
Analyst Ruchi Madan of Prudential Securities reduced her rating to "hold" from "buy" because the stock had come within 10% of Prudential's 12- month price target of $100.
Anthony Davis of Dean Witter Reynolds took similar action this week.
The rating changes came after a 9.2% rise in NationsBank's share price since July 29. The stock hit $90.75 Tuesday but declined Wednesday.
The Charlotte, N.C., banking company's shares were lifted by a rally in the banking sector and by investors' enthusiasm for its share repurchase program.
In spite of the downgrading, Ms. Madan raised her earnings estimate for 1996, to $8.20 a share from $8.10 and her 1997 projection to $9.20 from $9.15, saying the stock buyback would increase returns on a per-share basis.
"While a 10 million share reduction in the third quarter implies" a somewhat larger increase in "our full-year 1996 and 1997 estimates, we believe NationsBank will choose to report more conservative earnings by perhaps taking a larger loan-loss provision or front-loading expenses," said Ms. Madan. "Therefore, we have raised our estimates only" 10 cents for 1996 and 5 cents for 1997.
Dean Witter's downgrading of NationsBank Monday also was based on price.
Mr. Davis said the company is doing well but not well enough to justify the recent surge. "NationsBank's stock is up 31%, year to date," Mr. Davis said, noting that other banks followed by Dean Witter had gained only about 9%.
In trading Wednesday, NationsBank fell 12.5 cents, to $90.625. Most bank stocks were rebounding from a selloff prompted by positive economic news Tuesday.
The Standard & Poor's Bank Index rose 0.47%, and the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.35%. The Standard & Poor's 500 advanced 0.28%.
Other analysts argued that the downgradings were unwarranted.
"The reasons why NationsBank has done as well as it has is because there is change in the way investors are valuing stock and the way the company operates," said Thomas Brown of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.
Mr. Brown predicted NationsBank would continue to beat analysts' expectations on earnings per share. "These people are going to look back and say, 'I wish I hadn't done that.'"
Analyst Thomas Hanley of the UBS Securities unit of Union Bank of Switzerland also criticized "flip-flopping" on NationsBank's stock based on price.
Mr. Hanley said NationsBank's price-earnings ratio - about 12.2 - is in line with those of its peers. He said NationsBank's return on equity - 17.86% at yearend - is "above average."