Charles Rinehart has been planning a bright future for H.F. Ahmanson & Co. in the brave new world of high returns through consumer finance.
On the strength of his consumer finance background, security analysts have been willing to wait and see - and even cheer him on.
Now the patience of some key analysts appears to be wearing thin. After a daylong meeting staged by Ahmanson for analysts and money managers last week, some said they came away frustrated and unimpressed.
Such discontent has not yet translated into downgraded recommendations. And some in the audience last week did come away reassured.
But an influential handful said company officials presented no financial data on profitability in the thrift's core mortgage business. Nor could Home specify how earnings would be affected by its foray into consumer finance, they said.
In addition, the company does not appear to have a fallback plan in case its transformation to a consumer bank fails, the analysts said.
"There was a lot of 'this is the direction in which we are going,' but when you got to the specifics - of how much, by when - it became fuzzy," said Charlotte Chamberlain, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, Los Angeles.
For example, Ms. Chamberlain, said she was surprised that Home Savings provided no estimates of how large its loan portfolio would be by the year 2000. Thus, she said, the thrift could not say how profits would be affected by the $5 billion of consumer loans it says it will have on its books by then.
Ms. Chamberlain said she was also frustrated that Home provided no details on whether executive compensation was linked to the thrift's success in consumer finance.
When compensation for top managers is tied to gains in stock price or return on assets and return on equity, she said, investors can be more confident that managers have no conflicting interests with stockholders.
Finally, she said she wanted to know how Home Savings would boost earnings if it failed to make inroads into the increasingly competitive business of auto, home equity, and other consumer loans. She hoped to hear Mr. Rinehart declare that the thrift would launch a "slash and burn" strategy - aggressively cutting costs to boost returns - but came away feeling that managers have no alternative plan.
Though Ms. Chamberlain said she still expects Home Savings to succeed, she pronounced the meeting "very strange."
Ahmanson's stock is a staple in many institutional portfolios, and analysts said they would continue to recommend it - because of its strong book value ($20.75, close to the stock's $22.75 price on Friday), a high 4% dividend, and expected gains from a goodwill lawsuit against the government.
Further, institutional investors tend to be passive because of limited reinvestment alternatives and are unlikely to press top executives to change course, said analyst Gareth Plank, of Rodman & Renshaw, San Francisco.
At least one analyst, Jonathan Gray of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., came away from last week's meeting worried that Ahmanson does not have a firm grip on the core mortgage business.
For example, Mr. Gray said, Home Savings did not present convincing data on how much it costs to produce a mortgage loan. The thrift is in the midst of $70 million project to revamp its loan origination process by installing new technology to originate and underwrite mortgages.