Analysts who cover North Fork Bancorp are giving the Melville, N.Y., banking company a thumbs up after its first-ever investor day last Thursday and its recovery from a messy few months last year.

On Wednesday, the day before the investor conference, North Fork stock hit its 52-week high, reaching $29.12. The stock has made a comeback from last year's pummeling in the wake of the unsuccessful attempt by North Fork to buy Dime Bancorp, a hostile bid that caused the planned merger of Dime and Hudson United Bancorp to fall apart. North Fork's management painted a bright financial future at the conference last week. This year, they said, margin growth should exceed its upper-end target of 4.6%, and loan growth will probably top the old target of 13%. The bank expects its efficiency ratio to remain around 35%.

North Fork has maintained good loan growth despite the economic slowdown, said Jason Goldberg, a Lehman Brothers analyst who on Monday issued a research note on the bank.

Mr. Goldberg also commended North Fork's previously announced expansion plans. Moving on after the Dime debacle, the bank is closing a $175 million purchase of Commercial Bank of New York and has plans to build de novo branches over the next several years. The Commercial Bank deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, North Fork is looking to open 55 branches by 2004, which should raise its deposit base from $11 billion at the end of last year to $21 billion by 2005. Mr. Goldberg said the company's best opportunity for growth appears to be Manhattan, where it has just 1% of the area's $197 billion in deposits and does only 5% of its business. By 2004 the company hopes to do 35% of its business there.

North Fork "will double the size of its company by 2005, which is pretty meaningful," he said.

The company has shown some flaws, Mr. Goldberg said, not least of which is what he describes as "very thin management." John Kanas as chief executive and Daniel Healy as chief financial officers are good leaders, he said, but there is "no one really underneath them." Still, the conference provided some hopeful signs. "They did a good job of displaying the management's depth," he said.

On Monday Mr. Goldberg reiterated his "strong buy" rating and his prediction of a 47 cents a share second-quarter 2001 earnings estimate. His fiscal 2001 earnings estimate remained at $1.92 a share and his 2002 earnings estimate remained at $2.20 per share.

Also, in a research note Monday, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analyst Thomas F. Theurkauf Jr. reaffirmed in consensus the firm's "outperform" rating on North Fork shares and confirmed his favorable outlook for North Fork after the investor conference. Mr. Theurkauf fiscal year 2001 earnings estimates is $1.90 and his fiscal 2002 estimate is $2.20.

In trading on Monday, North Fork shares rose 1.43% in an otherwise mixed day for the market.

The American Banker Index of the top 50 banks rose .57%, while the American Banker Index of the top 225 rose 0.2%.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.