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Webster Financial Hit With Downgrade

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Webster Financial (WBS - Get Report) was downgraded to neutral from buy at Guggenheim Securities on Thursday because of valuation concerns.

After seeing the shares rise 18% year-to-date, analyst David Darst made the call, noting the stock is "within 2% of our $24 price target."

Shares of Waterbury, Conn.-based Webster slipped a penny to $23.34 in light trading Thursday afternoon. The stock is up more than 40% in the past year, hitting a 52-week of $23.74 this past Monday.

Darst was quite positive about Webster's success in raising capital in the fourth quarter and completing its repayment of government bailout money received through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. And he increased his 2011 earnings estimate for the company to $1.20 a share from $1.05, and his 2012 estimate to $1.40 from $1.35.

The Guggenheim price target for Webster was based on 12.5 times Darst's "normalized earnings estimate of $1.90," and the current valuation "approximates regional peers, which reflects an improving fundamental outlook."

Darst also said that Webster "has further opportunities to improve operating leverage as [loan] workout and foreclosure expense declines, in addition to further strategic initiatives to improve efficiency."

Among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, there are three left with buy ratings for Webster Financial, while the other 10 all recommend holding the shares.

-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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