SAN FRANCISCO Union Bank of California said late Thursday that it had agreed to sell its three branches in Guam and Saipan to First Hawaiian Bank.
The deal is part of a restructuring Union Bank unveiled last fall to emphasize faster-growing markets and businesses, a company spokesman said. The price for the three branches, which have deposits of $200 million, was not disclosed.
Analysts said they were not surprised by UnionBanCals decision to sell the branches to the BankWest Corp. subsidiary, given the sellers modest presence in those areas and its U.S. mainland-centric strategy. Financially and operationally, the sale is immaterial, said Campbell Chaney, an analyst with Tucker Anthony Sutro Capital Markets. What it shows is that the company is looking deep to wring out all inefficiencies, he said.
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi owns 64% of UnionBanCal Corp., which runs Union Bank. The Japanese banking giant recently completed a merger with two other Japanese banks. Speculation that it might sell its stake in UnionBanCal has surfaced from time to time, particularly as the Japanese economy has weakened.
Rosalind Looby, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, said she believes Tokyo-Mitsubishi is trying to raise cash. She said she doesnt think a sale of UnionBanCal is going to happen soon, but the behavior of its stock price reflects a perception in the market that a takeover is likely.
Perhaps fueling those rumors is UnionBanCals announcement early last week that Takahiro Moriguchi, its chief executive officer since 1997, would return to Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishis headquarters to take an unspecified assignment. He is to be succeeded as CEO by Norimichi Kanari, a vice chairman of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.
The moves cap months of turmoil at a company that has struggled to overcome declining profits and problems with asset quality. Last September management started the process of winnowing down to core businesses, announcing it would unwind a $1 billion indirect auto lending portfolio. It also identified trust and investments as a growth area, and said in December that it would buy Copper Mountain Trust Corp. of Portland, Ore.
UnionBanCal has operated in Guam and Saipan since 1974, when its predecessor, Bank of Tokyo of California, established itself there. The three branches were the companys only retail offices outside the U.S. mainland. Union Bank of Californias presence in Guam and Saipan is deeply rooted in history and it is difficult to leave, said Richard C. Hartnack, a vice chairman.
UnionBanCal spokesman Stephen Johnson said Friday: We looked at markets where we saw we had greater growth potential, and those were in areas like San Diego and Los Angeles. In looking at the branch network, well exit areas that dont have growth.
For First Hawaiian, the branch deal, which is slated to close in the fourth quarter, would allow it to leapfrog over the third-largest depository institution in Guam, Citigroup, to a 20% market share behind Bank of Guam and Pacific Century Financial Corp.
This is a wonderful opportunity to expand our commitment to Guam and Saipan, a region that we already know well from long experience, said First Hawaiian vice chairman Donald G. Horner. First Hawaiian has operated on Guam since 1970 and has had a branch in Saipan since 1997.
Guam law would prevent First Hawaiian from keeping the two Guam branches open. It would move customer accounts to one of First Hawaiians two branches on the island. It would be able to keep open the UnionBanCalbranch in Saipan.