After registering big gains over the past two months, banking stocks this week appeared to be taking a breather in advance of quarterly earnings announcements 25 cents to $20.25.

In contrast to its recent moves, the American Banker index of major bank stocks was virtually unchanged. At midweek it was off 0.004%.

The index might not have moved much at all had it not been for the shares of First USA Inc., a specialty credit card bank. They slumped $2 on Monday after a downgrading by Mar C. Alport of Alex Brown & Sons.

Other specialty card issuers were unaffected. In Thursday trading, First USA was down 37.5 cents to $43.75 while Capital One Financial Corp. was up 50 cents to $20.50 and MNBA Corp. was off 62.5 cents to $33.62.

One analyst who follows the credit card banks said he does not think growing concerns about an economic slowdown will trip up these companies.

"Ironically, the earnings potential of these companies actually expands in a slower-growth environment, because the process of adding a lot of accounts during a faster-growth period can be a negative," said Moshe A. Orenbuch of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

"But when people are looking for signs of a crack (in business conditions), every little thing can become a negative," he said.

Most bank stocks, and other stocks as well, slipped in Thursday trading on economic data showing that sales of new single-family homes rose more than expected, by 19.9%, during May.

The figures jolted the bond market, where interest rates rose, and deepened the mystery over whether the Federal Reserve will ease monetary policy and cut rates next week.

In late trading BankAmerica Corp. stock was down $1.125 to $53.75, J.P. Morgan & Co. off $1 to $70.625, Bankers Trust New York Corp. down $1.25 to $61.50 , and SunTrust Banks Inc. off $1.125 to $57.75.

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