Concerned that Banc One Corp. may be buckle under pressure to keep pace with other regional banks and make a costly acquisition, Dean Witter Reynolds analyst Anthony Davis Thursday downgraded its shares to "accumulate" from "buy."
Mr. Davis' recommendation came on the heels of reports that Banc One was a bidder in the auction of Boatmen's Bancshares which was won by NationsBank Corp. NationsBank announced a $9.5 billion deal with Boatmen's last Friday.
"While management chose not to overpay in its recently contested bid for Boatmen's, (Banc One) remains intent upon surviving as a national banking force," and is likely to pursue a merger, Mr. Davis said in a report to investors.
Mr. Davis said targets for the Columbus, Ohio, bank holding company might include Barnett Banks Inc., Comerica Inc., First of America, Firstar Corp., Mercantile Bancorp., Sun Trust Banks Inc., and Wachovia Corp.
Assuming a 25% price premium and 5% to 10% expense savings from an acquisition, Mr. Davis estimated Banc One's 1997 earnings could be diluted by 2% to 7%.
Others, however, did not see Banc One rushing into any deal.
"There is not a comparable franchise to Boatmen's out there," said George Salem of Gerard Klauer Mattison.
"They certainly have been falling behind by not doing any deals," said Mr. Salem, who has had a "hold" rating on the stock since late 1993 when the bank's derivatives investments soured.
But he added, "I think they had their heart set on (Boatmen's) and gave it all they had."
Mr. Davis said Banc One's recent share price appreciation and the possibility of "missteps" as the bank integrates systems of its various banking units also figured into his downgrade.
"Year to date the stock is up 12%, 2%-to-3% above the return of our typical regional bank and twice that of the S&P 500," he said. "In our opinion, the most complicated of the five common systems (Banc One) is installing may not be completely in place by the end of 1997 as scheduled."
Mr. Davis said he previously estimated that Banc One could trade at 75% of the price-to-earnings multiple of the S&P 500 average, but that he has lowered that estimate to 70%. Accordingly, he lowered his price target for the stock to $42 from $44.
Banc One shares fell 12.5 cents to $38.
Separately, Mr. Salem reiterated his "buy" recommendation on NationsBank, citing the benefits of its acquisition of Boatmen's.
"Those who think the deal is not in the interest of stockholders are erroneously and narrowly focusing on price paid and some minimal, temporary dilution," Mr. Salem said."'
"We view the merger as a bold 'home run.'"
Noting economies of scale due to the acquisition, Mr. Salem raised his earnings estimate to $10 from $9.75 for 1997, and to $11.40 from $11.00 in 1998.
He set a price target of $105.
In trading Thursday, NationsBank stock fell $1.75 to $80.