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IN UNCERTAIN TIMES, investors don't like surprises, which is why a Prudential-Bache Securities analyst likes First Empire State Corp. of Buffalo.

First Empire, which owns M&T Bank, has good earnings prospects and hasn't given investors any bad earnings surprises during the last year, says Claudia E. Mott, an analyst with Pru-Bache.

That's why Ms. Mott included First Empire on her recommended list of smaller bank stocks, along with First Alabama Bankshares, South Carolina National Bank and West One Bancorp of Idaho.

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