The market upheaval in Asia will hit the earnings of big U.S. banks in a remarkably uneven way.

A study by Standard & Poor's Inc. projects that the crisis will shave nearly 20% from some banks' operating income this year. But other banks, protected by hefty reserves, will suffer little or no decline.

Of the five banking companies studied by the agency, J.P. Morgan & Co. would take the biggest hit. With an estimated $5.4 billion in credit exposure to problem Asian countries, Morgan could suffer a 19% decline in pretax operating income, S&P said.

By contrast, BankAmerica Corp. would see no impact at all on operating income, even though it has $4.4 billion in credit exposure in the region, S&P said. The agency said that BankAmerica's potential losses are more than offset by excess reserves.

S&P's study is the first to estimate the possible affect of the Asia crisis on operating income for some of the nation's largest banks. Analysts generally agreed with the findings.

The study is "consistent with our own conversations with the banks," said David Berry, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Bankers Trust New York Corp., which has reported $3.8 billion in loans outstanding in Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea, could notch an operating income decline of 3%., the study found.

Chase Manhattan Corp., with $10.7 billion in exposure, may experience an operating income drop of 7%, S&P said.

The credit agency is still analyzing data for Citicorp and said estimates about the effect on that bank's operating profit may be available next week. Citicorp, the nation's second-largest bank, has said it has $2.7 billion in total cross-border loans in Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea. Citicorp also has $14.4 billion in local currency exposure in those three countries.

Morgan, Chase, and Bankers Trust declined to comment on the findings. Officials at BankAmerica and Citicorp could not be reached for comment.

S&P, which discussed its analysis during a conference call for institutional investors last week, said the data were preliminary and subject to change.

S&P's analysis assumed that Asian exposure would result in average nonperforming asset levels of 15% of total loans in Asia in 1998 for the group of five banks. The group's average nonperforming assets could double to 30% in 1999.

Though substantial, the problems compare favorably to the Latin American debt crisis of the early 1980s, when nonperforming loans soared to 30% to 50% of loans in the region, S&P said.

The Asian impact also compares favorably to the real estate crunch of the early 1990s, when nonperforming ratios his 20%, S&P said.

The five banks in the S&P study are likely to have average credit losses of 5% in Asia in 1998, and 10% in 1999, S&P said.

But some stock analysts said it was too soon to say what the losses would be.

"Each bank will have a different set of loss experiences," said Raphael Soifer, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. "We think the market has taken too much out of these stocks already."

S&P argued that banks have taken on increasing risks in their business mix since the early 1990s.

At Morgan, volatile market-related income from trading, corporate finance, and private equity investing totaled 57% of the company's total operating income in 1997, the rating agency said.

In 1992, Morgan's market-related income totaled only 44%.

Despite the riskier business mix and the potential for losses, S&P analysts said they remained sanguine about bank exposure to the region.

"We think that concern has been overdone," said Tanya Azarchs, an S&P analyst. "We feel it will be an earnings impact but not a loss-producing kind of impact."

S&P said it would probably not downgrade the debt of these banks on the basis of Asian credit exposure alone, with the exception of Morgan, which remains on the CreditWatch list, Ms. Azarchs said.

S&P's analysis relied on reports from the banks themselves and might not include undisclosed derivatives contracts. Loss estimates were based on the banks' taking all of their losses this year. The impact to earnings was based on current economic conditions.

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