NationsBank Corp., whose shares have slumped since its high-priced deal for Boatmen's Bancshares, got a major nod Wednesday from Wall Street.

"It's time to cut this company a break," said Nancy A. Bush of Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co., a regional bank analyst who has sometimes been a strong critic of acquisition prices.

Ms. Bush lifted her fundamental 12-month rating on the bank's shares from "market perform" to "outperform." "As I see it, the downside is $81 and the upside is $98," she said.

The North Carolina superregional bank's stock was up 25 cents to $84.25 during late trading. It hit a 52-week high of $94 on Aug. 30, shortly before the $9.75 billion Boatmen's transaction was unveiled.

Recouping is expected to take time. Ms. Bush thinks NationsBank stock will stay near its current price for the rest of the year, and she left in place her short-term "hold" rating.

The analyst said she is "still not enamored of the price paid for Boatmen's, but we do not think the fundamentals of the deal warrant the kind of fear and loathing that have been engendered."

The assumption that NationsBank can cut $335 million per year off Boatmen's current annual cost base of $1.45 billion "does not seem aggressive," she said. Overhead ratios at the St. Louis bank company "only recently broke the 60% barrier," she noted.

Major balance sheet restructuring of the combined banks is also likely, she said. This should "free up capital the company can use to more aggressively pursue its share repurchase goal of 14 million shares per year."

Ms. Bush said she felt that "Wall Street memories have been unsually short" concerning NationsBank, whose chief executive, Hugh L. McColl Jr., long has had a reputation for being aggressive.

The company "has been very successful at doing deals that have been unusual, initially controversial and have worked out better than expected," she said. "We think the chill toward this company will start to melt as we get closer to consummation of this deal.

In upgrading NationsBank, Ms. Bush raised her estimate of 1997 operating earnings to $8.60 per share, from $8.50, but did not change her 1996 forecast of $8.15 per share.

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