Despite recent weakness in bank shares, Wall Street analysts still foresee big potential gains in many of these stocks, according to data compiled for American Banker by First Call Corp.

Topping the list among the nation's 50 largest bank stocks is U.S. Bancorp, followed in order by BankBoston Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., First Union Corp., and Bank One Corp.

Industry analysts now have a mean 12-month price target of $44.58 per share for U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis, down 2% from a target of $45 in mid- January. The current target translates to a one-year projected growth rate of 42.4% from the stock's closing price last Friday.

The mean price target for BankBoston right now is $49.31 per share, up 2% from a month earlier, for a projected growth rate of 37.7% over Friday's close. The target for Wells Fargo is $46.75, up 1.3%, a projected 12-month growth rate of 37%.

A $67.75 per share mean price target for First Union translates to a 33.5% projected 12-month growth rate. But the analysts' target for First Union is down a steep 8.7% from mid-January after the bank's recent announcement that earnings growth would be lower than expected.

The $65.27 target for Bank One, down 2.2% from last month, amounts to a 33% growth rate.

In general, the analysts' projections appear to back up their assertions that bank stocks are undervalued and buying opportunities exist. Banks have indeed lagged so far this year, with the American Banker index of the 225 largest bank issues down about 10% versus modest gains in other market indexes.

The biggest bank stock price target gainers from mid-January to mid- February were MBNA Corp. and KeyCorp, both up 13.1%. The analysts' price targets rose 11.7% for Mercantile Bankshares of Baltimore and 11.6% for Chase Manhattan Corp.

Coverage by a minimum of four analysts is required for inclusion in the target price survey, which is limited to the top 50 banks.

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