Analysts are warming to Banc One Corp.'s efforts to centralize its operations and boost shareholder value.
The Columbus, Ohio, banking company's stock gained 37.5 cents Tuesday, to $46.625, on news of an upgrading by J.P. Morgan Securities Inc.
Morgan analyst Catherine Murray increased her rating on the company's shares from "market performer" to "buy," saying share repurchases and cost savings from consolidating Banc One's far-flung operations would pay off for investors.
Ms. Murray said her 12-month target for the stock is $52.
"Banc One has been a success at transforming itself from local community to national bank," said Robert Albertson of Goldman, Sachs & Co., who has a target price of $50 per share on the stock.
Katrina Blecher of Gruntal & Co. said growth in the Midwest, good fee income, and a reduction in the company's credit card business make the stock attractive. She puts the stock in her highest rating category, "outperform," with a target price of $55.
Banc One's gains came on a slow day for bank shares, as many issues slipped from highs reached in Monday's rally. The S&P Bank index fell 0.58%.
Shares of KeyCorp - another regional bank with headquarters in the Midwest and a consolidation story to tell - fell 25 cents to $51, after being downgraded to "accumulate" from "buy" by analyst Joel Silverstein at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell.
Mr. Silverstein said the shares were overpriced after a big run-up Monday, when the bank detailed its restructuring plans.
Others analysts remained positive about the bank, in view of its plan to reduce its work force and buy back 12 million shares. KeyCorp's rating was raised to "attractive" by Joseph Duwan at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
"I'm pleased that KeyCorp has accelerated their restructuring plan and has targeted its completion by next year," said Bradley Ball, an analyst at CS First Boston.
"Since they've combined with Society Corp. in 1994, they have been fairly slow at bringing their community banking to a level of efficiency necessary to be effective."
KeyCorp projected a 55% efficiency ratio by the end of next year, which is average for the top-tier banks, Mr. Ball said. He added that KeyCorp's efforts to consolidate its nationwide franchise from 12 banks into a single one allows the Cleveland bank to maintain diverse sources of revenue growth.
"Since banking has become so commoditized, the advantage that they have is their aggressive branding strategy," he said. "They're concerned with more deeply penetrating their existing client base."
Michael Mayo, who follows the bank for Lehman Brothers, maintained his "outperform" rating on the stock.
"The management has taken more control over its destiny. It is not a table-pounder, but the announcement is a move in the right direction," he said.