Officers of several major banking companies said they had already reshuffled investment portfolios in anticipation of Wednesday's rate hike by the Federal Reserve System.
Although analysts seemed to concur, they assert that some some rate exposure remains.
"The fourth quarter probably marked the last of the significant portfolio restructurings," said Sally Pope Davis, a bank analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. "For a majority of banks, however, an interest rate rise is not helpful."
Coming off a turbulent fourth quarter that was laden with special charges for portfolio restructurings, the banking industry is entering the new year with a lot less liability sensitivity.
"All throughout the latter half of last year, we began to position ourselves to be much more in balance to the effects of rising rates," said George Meiling, treasurer of Banc One Corp.
The Columbus, Ohio-based company booked a $170 million after-tax charge in the fourth quarter as it sold fixed-rate investments and reinvested in variable-rate securities.
Although rates might rise further this year, Banc One does not expect major revisions of its portfolio, said Mr. Meiling.
Analysts seemed concerned about some other regional banking companies. And they acknowledge that even rate-neutral institutions will pay price.
Sandra Flannigan, an analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co., expects rate hikes through the first half of 1995 to cause a gradual erosion of net interest margins for regional banks in general.
For regional banks in aggregate, Ms. Flannigan is forecasting a 15- basis-point decline in net interest margins this year, compared with 1994. That is a steeper aggregate decline, compared with 1994's 12-basis-point drop from 1993, she said.
But some institutions are notably more exposed than others, analysts said.
Goldman Sachs estimates that PNC Bank Corp. and Huntington Bancshares both will suffer a more than 60-basis-point decline in net interest margins this year.
Huntington, based in Columbus, Ohio, said the bank had already factored a potential a 150-basis-point rate hike into its investment strategy.
In conversations on Wednesday, investor relations officers said they have been flooded with calls about potential rate exposure.
"What we're telling investors simply is that we think 1995 will be a challenging year for banks," said Russell Page, head of investor relations at NationsBank Corp., Charlotte, N.C.
The executive said NationsBank is "comfortable with our previously expressed, 12% expected growth in earnings per share" for 1995.
Mr. Page said NationsBank has maintained a cautious approach toward securities investing, especially when it comes to issues with longer maturities.
"We're certainly not going to have securities mature and immediately reinvest them long term as we look down the barrel of continued increasing interest rates."
NationsBank is hoping that any rate increases occur in the first half of the year, Mr. Page said, giving the bank an opportunity to reinvest some of its maturing securities.