Summit Bancorp., once a Wall Street favorite, is fighting to repair its image with analysts and investors after a series of setbacks.
The company's revenue and earnings growth have fallen behind the industry pace, credit problems have surfaced, and it is no longer seen as likely to be acquired for a juicy premium. All this has been toxic for its shares, which have plummeted in value.
The latest adverse development came Friday as Edward Najarian of First Union Capital Markets cut his investment rating on the stock to "hold" -- a lukewarm view that some interpret to really mean sell.
"We believe Summit's core revenue growth and core earnings-per-share growth will continue in single digits," said Mr. Najarian, whose firm has been a longtime supporter of the stock. "They're just not getting the kind of revenues to make their numbers higher." Moreover, the company "has seen its acquisition value dissipate to some extent," he said.
Other analysts, several of whom issued "hold" recommendations earlier, have a similar view.
"Our concern is they're in mature markets and the revenue growth just isn't there," said David Trone, banking analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "Other than a takeout play it's just not one of the stocks we would be in."
That is a far cry from the view of two or three years ago when Summit was seen as a takeover plum. It was the largest independent banking company left in a state with affluent suburbs bordering both New York and Philadelphia, and it had its own growing business base in the telecommunications and pharmaceutical industries.
Mr. Najarian's downgrade came a day after Summit disclosed in a regulatory filing that it would put all or part of a $60 million relationship, including loans, on non-accrual status in the third quarter. "We expect some of the loss to impact earnings," the analyst said.
Executives of the $33 billion-asset company were not available for comment on Friday.
To be sure, Summit is not the only bank to experience loan troubles recently. Hibernia Corp. of New Orleans has grappled since the spring with non-performing loans. And more can be expected at other banking companies, experts said. "Commercial credit quality for some banks has been deteriorating for the past year,'' said Tanya Azarachs, research analyst at Standard & Poor's Corp.
But for Summit, once cited as a model among independent banking firms, the fall from market grace has been dramatic. Its stock has tumbled from $43 per share in May to $36 on brisk volume Friday.
Still, the company has some analysts in its corner.
Both Advest Inc. of Hartford, Conn. and Bear, Stearns & Co. of New York continue to rate the company a "buy," although analysts at neither firm are pounding the table for the stock.
Christopher Bamman of Advest praised Summit's efforts to build core deposits. He acknowledged that in some cases potentially lucrative fees are being waived to spice the growth trend, but he argued that this is not necessarily a negative.
"If you get a lot of core deposits, you can improve your net interest margin," Mr. Bamman said.
Sean Ryan, the banking analyst who follows Summit for Bear Stearns, declined to comment directly on the stock. But in recent research reports he has said Summit has ''some franchise value and the prospect of sustained revenue growth."
He also called the company "a good bank in a great market with a unique franchise.''
But at the same time, Mr. Ryan added, "there is a lack of sustained momentum. They are a value play without an immediate catalyst, to be sure.''
Mr. Trone of Credit Suisse First Boston said he still holds out hope that an acquisition of Summit would return value to shareholders. He said there are a number of possible buyers. Among the largest, he cited Bank of America Corp., saying it would get the company "past the Mason-Dixon line to have an imprint in New Jersey."