Shareholder activism is a rising threat to the independence of community banks, and recent investor fights at ECB Bancorp (ECB) and First California Financial Group (FCAL) illustrate the danger factors.

The two share several characteristics that led return-hungry investors to urge them to consider selling to another bank. ECB of Engelhard, N.C., and First California of Westlake, Calif., are fairly healthy, but their equity values are depressed. They also compete with banks strong enough to make acquisitions.

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