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BankAmerica Corp.

No. 1, Financial Institutions; No. 2, Absolute Profits

May 06, 1997|DON LEE

BankAmerica Corp., the nation's third-largest banking company, has made impressive improvements recently under David A. Coulter, who took over as chief executive in early 1996.

Coulter has followed a simple strategy: maximizing return on capital and tightly controlling expenses. And analysts say he has done a terrific job, helping to lift the stock price from a 52-week low of $69.75 to a recent $119 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Coulter has shed under-performing assets, selling, for example, $3.3 billion worth of residential mortgages, while reinvesting in higher-return businesses, such as buying Ford Motor Co.'s leasing portfolio.

At the same time, Coulter has instilled a greater sense of discipline in expense control. By combining functions in several states and closing or selling less profitable branches and holding down employee costs, the company cut its expense-to-revenue ratio to 54.9% last year from 58% in 1995.

Meanwhile, BankAmerica has implemented a steady stock-repurchase plan that has helped boost earnings per share. Last year, the company posted record earnings of $2.87 billion, or $7.31 a share, up 13% from 1995.

On the downside, the company's credit card charge-offs continue to rise, but few analysts view that as threatening.

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