Q: Are my shares of Wachovia Corp. going to do well? Will they increase as it grows? -- R.D., via the Internet

A: The nation's fourth-largest bank in terms of assets has a driving ambition to become bigger.

What's uncertain is whether it might suffer financial consequences by overdoing it, and whether it can improve operational efficiency as it expands into new regions and business lines.

There's concern over its latest acquisition, the $23.9 billion takeover of the Golden West Financial Corp. savings and loan firm. This brings combined assets to about $700 billion, with more than 105,000 employees and about 3,400 branches. It acquired the regional banking firm SouthTrust Corp. just two years ago.

Some analysts fret over the fierce competition and market uncertainties it inherited with Golden West's mortgage and high-interest savings businesses.

There's also the possibility this Southeast and mid-Atlantic powerhouse might spend extravagantly to add to its new Western holdings, though Chairman and Chief Executive G. Kennedy Thompson said he expects no significant merger for another two years.

The bank has launched a $150 billion community-development plan in California over the next decade.

Shares of Wachovia (WB) are up 4 percent this year after scant gains last year and advances of 13 percent in 2004 and 28 percent in 2003. In August, the company announced it was increasing the quarterly dividend by 10 percent, to 56 cents a share. Its acquisition of the automobile lender Westcorp has recently been a positive for overall earnings.

Last week, though, its quarterly results and fourth-quarter forecast disappointed Wall Street.

Consensus analyst recommendation on Wachovia shares is a slight "buy," according to Thomson Financial, consisting of six "strong buys," eight "buys," 12 "holds" and one "underperform."

The largest portion of Wachovia's earnings comes from branch banking, in which it excels, and the rest from asset management, brokerage and capital markets. It entered into a brokerage joint venture with Prudential Securities in which it must work hard to establish brand recognition.

Earnings are expected to increase 9 percent this year, versus 8 percent expected for the money-center banking industry, according to Thomson. Next year's projected 8 percent increase and the forecast of a five-year annualized growth rate of 10 percent are in line with peers.

Several recent rulings have affected this Charlotte, N.C.-based bank.

The New York Stock Exchange fined Wachovia $2.25 million for failing to review and save electronic records relating to capital markets and securities from 1999 through last spring. In addition, an ex-Wachovia broker won $3.8 million against the bank after an NASD arbitration panel ruled he was wrongfully dismissed in the mutual-fund trading scandal.

Q: I'd hoped that my shares of Ariel Appreciation Fund would do better. What's the prognosis for them? -- C.L., via the Internet

A: Portfolio manager John Rogers Jr. has a mind of his own.

His avoidance of energy stocks and fondness for media stocks hasn't been a recipe for terrific returns lately.

Nonetheless, this fund that espouses patience and investment for the long term wasn't designed to shoot out the lights with hot growth stocks. It seeks discount-priced stocks of consistent, strong brands that have relatively low potential for volatility.

The $2.7 billion Ariel Appreciation Fund (CAAPX) is up 10 percent over the past 12 months and has a three-year annualized return of 10 percent. Both results rank in the lower one-fourth of mid-cap growth and value funds.