UCBH Holdings Inc., a San Francisco bank that targets Chinese-Americans, has consistently had a healthy stock price and won excellent ratings from analysts, despite a high price-earnings multiple.

And the stock is getting better. Lana Chan, an analyst at CIBC World Markets, added yet another "buy" rating on Tuesday when she initiated coverage for the company. Her target price of $72 leaves the stock with plenty of room to grow. On Tuesday, UCBH was up $1.2813, or 2.32%, to $56.4688, which calculates to a multiple of 22.25.

Comparing the $2.5 billion-asset UCBH with other banks that serve the Asian community, including GBC Bancorp and East West Bancorp, David Winton of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. said that it deserves the high multiple because it provides good earnings growth and little risk. (GBC Bancorp trades at 8.86 times earnings and East West Bancorp at 15.36 times.)

Last month UCBH gave its fans more good news when it reported a 22.9% increase in profits for 2000 and earnings of $2.48 a share, up from $2.01 in 1999 and $1.26 in 1998. Fourth-quarter earnings were 66 cents a share, up 11 cents from a year earlier.

But there is more to UCBH than steady earnings growth, Mr. Winton said. The company leverages its community contacts better than other Asian-American banks, he said.

"Their new Web site is a community portal, almost a Chinese-American Yahoo," he said.

Mr. Winton said that UCBH designs innovative retail banking products that attract high deposits. It provides not only free checking but also such things as "1+1 Advantage" accounts, which combine checking and interest bearing savings; family banking; and a new-immigrants program.

UCBH is the dominant bank in the Chinese community in the Bay Area and is growing in Los Angeles, he said.

Its strategy in this fast-growing and increasingly wealthy community is clearly paying off. Deposits grew 23.1% last year, to $632.3 million, while its loan portfolio increased 33.3%, to $1.34 billion. Nonperforming assets fell in the fourth quarter to 0.11% of the total, from 0.23% a year earlier.

Elsewhere, after continuing Monday's recovery early in the session, financial stocks had a relapse Tuesday afternoon as the market digested several pieces of economic data.

The Department of Commerce reported a 6% drop in durable goods orders in January but noted that without defense and transportation goods the index remained unchanged. Industry machinery, including computers, rose 5.7% after falling 3.9% in December, and core capital goods orders (excluding defense) were up 6.5%.

Sales of new single-family houses fell 11% from December and 1% from last January, and the Conference Board reported another deceleration in consumer confidence, now at the level of June 1996.

The American Banker index of the top 50 banks was up 0.06%, and its index of 225 banks fell 0.34%.

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