Money managers are counting on pleasant earnings news from Society Corp. as it starts to benefit from the Ameritrust Corp. acquisition.
This vote of confidence - reflected in a 14% rise in the Cleveland company's stock price this quarter - derives from bullish prospects for cost-cutting and for the bank's new status as a powerhouse in the trust business.
"Society is in a category of bank that gets around 40% of their net revenue from trust and other fee businesses," said Douglas Jones, a vice president with Sit Investment Associates Inc., a Minneapolis-based money management company.
"And we think they should get a higher trading multiple than the average regionals, up toward the real trust banks," he added.
Room to Grow
Society's shares are trading at 12 times earnings. In contrast, a strong trust bank such as State Street Boston Corp. trades at 23 times earnings.
On Thursday, the shares closed at $65, up 12.5 cents. They started the quarter at $56.875.
The search for "earnings suprises" like Society has become a major theme in the bank stock market.
Investors are seeking bank shares that can continue to appreciate after the industry's two-year rally.
Through the acquisition, which was completed in March, Society expanded its assets by 70% to $24 billion and transformed itself into the biggest bank in northern Ohio and northern Indiana.
Society has told analysts it will reduce Ameritrust's costs by $129 million by yearend 1993.
15th-Largest Trust Business
Moreover, it now has the 15th-biggest trust business in the industry, according to Thomas Hanley of First Boston Corp. Trust fees will hit $200 million this year, he predicted.
Overall fee income, of which trust is the biggest part, will probably account for 40% of revenues this year, analysts said.
The first glimpse of a surge in earnings came in the third-quarter earnings report. Per-share earnings were $1.38, up 38% from the same period in 1991.
Society's returns on assets and equity were 1.44% and 19.14% respectively. Those numbers were among the best in the industry.
Revenues a Magnet
"The people who are supporting stock are doing so because of the strong trust revenues and the improved levels of performance," said Henry C. Dickson, an analyst with Kemper Securities Inc. in Chicago.
The bank is likely to earn $5 per share this year, say analysts. Next year, per-share earnings could rise 30% to $6.60, Mr. Hanley said.
Mr. Hanley said the share price could hit $80 in the next 12 months. Mr. Jones, the money manager, sees growth beyond that and forecasts 1994 earnings per-share of $7.10.
Faith vs. Skepticism
Mr. Jones said he started buying shares right after the Ameritrust merger, though many analysts were skeptical of the deal. Ameritrust's credit problems had scared off other potential buyers, including Banc One Corp. and National City Corp.
The major concern was whether Ameritrust's troubled loan portfolio would cause a big jump in Society's loan loss provision.
But Mr. Jones said he had faith in Society's chairman, Robert W. Gillespie, to the Ameritrust merger work
Mr. Gillespie has pulled off mergers with troubled Ohio banks in the past, analysts said.