Expectation is growing among analysts that NationsBank will announce a stock split this year, possibly at $100 a share.
Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank, which was trading Wednesday at $92 at midafternoon Wednesday, would gain no financial benefit from a split. But analysts said such a move could boost retail ownership, making shares more affordable and improving the bank's image among investors.
"It would be a reminder of just how well the stock and the company is performing," said Michael L. Mayo, of Lehman Brothers. "Psychologically, it's a reminder that the company is doing everything it said it was going to do."
(Meanwhile, Barnett Banks Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., announced its own 2-for-1 stock split. See article on back page.)
NationsBank chairman Hugh McColl Jr. set off speculation about a stock split during the company's annual shareholders meeting in April, when the stock was trading in the low 80s.
During his speech to investors, Mr. McColl said the board might consider a split and later told a reporter that $100 a share "makes a nice round number."
A NationsBank spokeswoman declined to elaborate Tuesday.
NationsBank's share price has languished in the doldrums for most of this decade, but it has risen 32% since the beginning of this year, outdistancing other institutions in the bank group.
Analysts said investors have finally discounted fears of NationsBank doing a dilutive acquisition, focusing instead on the company's strong earnings performance.
NationsBank earned $1.2 billion in the first six months this year, up 31% from the first half of 1995.
The company raised its performance targets after that report, setting new three-year goals for its efficiency ratio and return on equity. The new goal for the efficiency ratio is between 50% and 55% - it is now 55.6% - and for return on equity, near 20%. Return on equity at NationsBank is now 18%.
Analysts said NationsBank might wish to encourage more retail ownership, since institutions currently hold 57% of the stock. Dean Witter's Anthony R. Davis said NationsBank's institutional ownership is 12% higher than the average for regional banks that he follows.
"I would think they would want to maintain some reasonable degree of retail ownership," Mr. Davis said. "With a $100 stock, that's a challenge."
NationsBank's stock last split in 1986, when predecessor company NCNB Corp. did a 2-for-1 split. NationsBank was formed in 1991 from the merger of NCNB and Atlanta-based C&S/Sovran Corp.