The stock price of United Companies Financial Corp. plummeted 14.3% from last Monday through Thursday after two investment banks cut earnings estimates.
Natwest Securities reduced its 1996 estimate for the home equity lender to $2.72 per share, from $2.79, and Oppenheimer Funding, a unit of Oppenheimer & Co., cut its estimate to $2.62, from $2.75.
In addition, Natwest issued a negative report about the company last week, the day before United's first-ever investor relations meeting on Thursday.
"The ... issue to us is the credibility of management and the outlook for this franchise," the report stated. "It seems that every quarter or so, UCFC's share price takes a beating as peers report great results and the company muddles through."
Both United Companies' retail arm, United Companies Lending, and its wholesale branch, Unicor, have reported fewer originations than expected this year.
"Arguably they have a great platform for growth," said John Heffern, a Natwest analyst, "but a history of missing their numbers."
The slide in retail loan production can be attributed in part to management shifts in both the West and Northeast, said Gee Gee Hargon, president of United Companies Lending, after the investor meeting.
"We didn't like the way things were developing in the Northeast," he said. "And in the West we were trying to be what our competition was there."
With new management in place in both regions, Mr. Hargon said, United is poised to pull in higher volume.
The company has been investing heavily in infrastructure and will "reap the harvest tomorrow," said J. Terrell Brown, the parent company's chief executive.
Some analysts seemed satisfied by the answers they got at last week's meeting. "Their spending on infrastructure, development, and management issues are challenges that weren't made clear before," Mr. Heffern said afterward.
Last week's stock market response was an overreaction, Mr. Heffern added. "None of this was new."
But he said the next quarter may be United Companies' "last chance" to satisfy investors.
The market's strong reaction can be attributed in part to expectations that United would book the same booming business that some of its competitors have done, analysts added.
"Even my lowered earnings estimate of $2.62 is still 25% growth," said Steven Eisman of Oppenheimer.
United Companies began trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.