A small Missouri thrift has come under attack by a well-known professional depositor who wants it sold as soon as possible.

Mutual Bancompany of Jefferson City, Mo., has received two letters from the professional, Jerome H. Davis, urging the $57 million-asset thrift to consider selling. Mutual has responded only by acknowledging receipt of the letters - the latest letter was on Oct. 4.

Mr. Davis' strategy as a professional depositor is to open an account in a mutual thrift, push for a conversion, buy its new stock - often more than a 5% stake - and then push for a sale to a larger company.

Mr. Davis and his wife, Susan, own 9.4% of Mutual's stock.

Mutual's management has "an inherent conflict of interest with shareholders," said Mr. Davis' attorney, David M. Perlmutter. "They may well lose their jobs by selling, but they have the duty of doing what's best for shareholders. One way to do that is selling and knocking out that whole level of bureaucracy."

Mutual, which just went public last January, has had one board meeting since Mr. Davis first made his desires known in August. Its next regularly scheduled meeting is on Oct. 18.

"They've had an opportunity to review the letters," said Dale Smith, Mutual's vice president and treasurer, "and I have no idea what they may decide to do - they have taken no action to date."

Regulations require that a thrift cannot sell until at least one year after the date it converts from a mutual to a stock institution. Thus Mutual cannot do anything until February, but Mr. Davis wants the company to begin looking into possibilities now.

"At minimum, my suggestions warrant a meaningful response by the bank's board of directors in light of the currently strong mergers and acquisitions environment," Mr. Davis wrote in his latest letter.

He calculated in the letter that an average deal worth 1.5 times book value and paying an 8% premium on deposits would fetch $28.55 a share for Mutual's stockholders - about 84% higher than the stock's current level.

Mr. Davis is no stranger to such confrontations. In fact, he is well known in the industry for pressuring thrifts to sell shortly after they undergo a mutual-to-stock conversion.

"He is far and away the most vocal and aggressive of all the professional depositors," said Wayne R. Bopp, a thrift analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in St. Louis.

In August, Mr. Davis sent out letters to more than 20 thrifts in which he owns stock, urging them to consider selling. Among them were Gateway Bancorp Inc. of Catlettsburg, Ky. and LSB Financial Corp. of Lafayette, Ind. LSB asserted several weeks later that it was not for sale.

Mr. Davis, who is based in Greenwich, Conn., has been investing primarily in thrifts for about a decade but only recently has he taken such aggressive actions, Mr. Perlmutter said.

"I've talked to a lot of bankers and I don't know of anyone who has taken his advice and sold the company because of Jerome Davis' efforts," said Mr. Bopp. "He has the same story to tell, and he'll tell it to you for the rest of his life. Eventually, management stops taking his phone calls."

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