MBNA Corp. shares have surged to record highs lately, prompting several analysts to review their ratings.

The credit card specialist's shares were downgraded this week by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. and Prudential Securities, which concluded the stock is due to cool off.

Citing prospects for improvement in the credit card market, CIBC Oppenheimer upgraded the shares.

As of Wednesday, MBNA shares had jumped 19% since Jan. 16, when research director David Berry at Keefe placed the stock on his "attractive" list. Now, his assessment is that the stock will "market perform" for a time.

"There are no changes in our estimates or our views about the company's fundamental prospects," Mr. Berry said.

Prudential's Jennifer Scutti reduced her ranking to "hold" from "buy," also citing a high share price. Ms. Scutti said she was downgrading the stock "despite the consistent earnings growth and low delinquency loss levels," because the stock has passed her $34 target.

She said Wilmington, Del.-based MBNA is positioned for continued operational growth. The company's portfolio is likely to grow by 25% this year and by 20% in 1999, as MBNA broadens its product mix and expands geographically, she said.

Steven Eisman, a CIBC analyst, is even more upbeat about MBNA and the credit card industry. He has turned "extremely positive," saying credit card quality will improve dramatically by yearend.

The current residential mortgage refinancing boom will "liquefy consumer balance sheets," allowing bankruptcy filings to fall and credit card quality to rise, he said.

MBNA, among the largest credit card companies in the United States, is solidly positioned with "a strong affinity-based focus coupled with a very strong underwriting culture," Mr. Eisman said.

MBNA shares were up $1.0625, to $36.4375, Thursday on a down day for the market. Investors were taking profits on the recent rally and worrying about the U.S. trade deficit, which rose to its highest level in a decade, according to a Commerce Department report.

The Standard & Poor's bank index dropped 1.02%, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.89%. The Nasdaq bank index was off 0.41%, and the S&P 500 declined by 0.37%.

Even Citicorp chairman John Reed has indulged in some recent profit taking. He sold 10,200 of his Citicorp shares this year at $116.19 each, according to the Washington Service, which tracks regulatory filings.

The sale leaves Mr. Reed with a considerable stake: 999,531 shares.

In other action Thursday, shares of First Security Corp. fell $1.9375, to $35.25, after announcing plans to buy California State Bank, whose shares surged $3.75, to $47.50, on the news.

Salt Lake City-based First Security will exchange 1.42 of its shares for each share of California State, in a bid to expand California operations.

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