U.S. Bancorp's stock managed a meager gain on Monday but failed to shake off the torpor recently afflicting it and other high-quality regional and super-regional companies.

The Portland, Ore.-based company, which rose 12.5 cents, to $22.25 a share, has drifted slowly downward from a mid-summer high as investors fretted over the weak economy and the presidential election.

The lethargy results from a sense among investors that the better bank stocks have little upside potential.

Most are trading within easy reach of what Wall Street views as optimum price-to-earnings multiples.

Narrow Trading Range

As a result, many of the bank stocks have traded in a tight range.

U.S. Bancorp shares did not move much even last week when the holding company announced sharply lower than expected third-quarter earnings and absorbed a number of nonrecurring charges.

Analysts, many of whom lowered estimates for the year in reaction, said the bank had shrewdly timed its cleanup quarter.

It's far better to have a quarter with a lot of nonrecurring charges "when the market is in a low-energy mode than when everybody is lying in wait for news," said one.

"At current prices the stock is modestly undervalued," said Lawrence W. Cohn of PaineWebber Inc.

It sells at about 8.8 times Mr. Cohn's 1993 earnings forecast of $2.45 a share, and at about 1.4 times book value of $15.19 a share.

Flat Performance

After its year's high of $ 26 last summer, the stock fell 7% in the third quarter and is back near its Dec. 31 level of $22.375, effectively registering no gain for the year.

"Solid regional banks like U.S. Bancorp have historically sold at about 10 times earnings," said Mr. Cohn. "Thus we see some upside in the stock, but not enough to to make it attractive."

Mr. Cohn is neutral on the stock. So is Sally Pope Davis of Goldman, Sachs & Co., who rates it a market performer. She also has a 1993 earnings estimate for the company of $2.45 a share.

More enthusiastic are Brent B. Erensel and Michael L. Mayo of UBS Securities. They feel U.S. Bancorp may be a beneficiary if Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas wins the presidential election.

A Boost from Inflation

A Clinton presidency, they said, would most favor banks serving resource-based regions that would get relatively more benefits from an uptick in inflation during an economic recovery. Those regions are the West, the agricultural Midwest, the Northwest, and the Southwest.

But they warned that a higher emphasis on environmental issues by Mr. Clinton could dampen the economy of states in the Northwest, where U.S. Bancorp is based.

Mr. Erensel and Mr. Mayo described themselves as "selectively bullish" on bank stocks and recommended the Portland bank as well as 11 others.

They think the economy will strengthen next year, regardless of who is elected President, "owing to the monetary and fiscal stimulus already in place."

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