NationsBank Corp. gained a fresh ally on Wall Street Wednesday as Lehman Brothers issued a "buy" rating on the North Carolina-based superregional.

The stock of the $158 billion-asset colossus sank to a 52-week low of $43.75 on Dec. 8 amid general investor concerns about rising rates, balance sheet postures, and revenue growth.

Since then, analysts have gained confidence in NationsBank's risk management and growth prospects.

But it still has a way to go: Lehman says NationsBank is trading at less than seven times expected 1995 earnings, versus a 7.8 multiple for its peer group.

Placing a "medium-risk - buy" rating on NationsBank, Lehman analyst Michael Mayo said the banking company's stock still is trading at a crisis- like price "even though there is no crisis."

Mr. Mayo predicted NationsBank would boost earnings by at least 10% in 1995, fueled by growth in loans and fee revenues. In the third quarter, NationsBank earned $373 million, for annualized returns of 0.94% on average assets and 15.41% on average equity.

With its vast deposit base, Mr. Mayo said, NationsBank will be a prime beneficiary of an expected move by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to lower insurance rates. He projected a 30-cent-per-share boost to NationsBank's annual earnings, beginning in January 1996.

The prospective insurance premium cut "is the most significant regulatory event with a direct effect on banks in years," Mr. Mayo said.

According to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., NationsBank experienced an $844 million drop in the market value of its securities portfolio in the third quarter, along with a $609 million decline in the value of its derivatives positions.

But Mr. Mayo contends that the maturity structure of NationsBank's balance sheet is fairly well matched, meaning the company probably offset most of the unrealized losses provoked by rising rates with gains on the liability side of the balance sheet.

"There are some misguided perceptions," he said.

Mr. Mayo pegs NationsBank's 1995 earnings at $6.80 per share, up from an expected $6.15 per share in 1994.

The analyst also believes concerns about NationsBank's previous acquisitions are overblown, saying recent deals - such as the purchase of Chicago Research & Trading - helped strengthen the franchise.

"NationsBank has shown that it avoids significant dilution with its acquisitions," said Mr. Mayo.

NationsBank's stock fell 62.5 cents on Wednesday, closing at $46.50.

Separately, the stock of money-center institutions gyrated on Wednesday as analysts worried about their exposure to the deepening economic crisis in Mexico.

Economists on Wednesday predicted Mexico's economy will shrink by 0.5% this year, and that price inflation in consumer goods could reach 20%.

Citicorp's stock was especially hard hit, losing more than $2 in early trading. The stock closed Wednesday at $40.375, down $1.375.

Ronald I. Mandle, a Bernstein analyst, said Citicorp's stock appeared especially vulnerable to market concerns about Mexico because it is perceived as deriving the greatest portion of its foreign earnings from Latin American countries.

"Latin American concerns are spooking the market," Mr. Mandle said.

J.P. Morgan & Co. fell more than $1 by midday. It closed at $56.375, down $1.375 for the day. BankAmerica Corp. fell 50 cents, closing at $40.875.

Elsewhere on Wall Street, Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. analyst George Bicher initiated coverage of Mellon Bank Corp. and First Union Corp. with "strong buy" recommendations. The analyst also downgraded PNC Bank Corp., to "underperform" from "neutral."

Mellon rose 75 cents on the recommendation, closing at $32.50, while First Union rose 25 cents, closing at $42.625. PNC fell 25 cents, closing at $21.625.

Mr. Bicher and fellow analyst Mark C. Alpert also gave "neutral" ratings to Banc One Corp., Keycorp, Fleet Financial Group, Wachovia Corp., First Fidelity Bancorp, and Bank of Boston Corp.

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