A rumor that American Express Co. may be a takeover target has generated mostly skepticism from financial analysts.

The rumor was mentioned in the Feb. 5 Inside Wall Street column in Business Week magazine. In the next issue, the same column said a New York investment banker believes General Motors Corp. is a potential suitor. General Electric Co. was also mentioned.

GE flatly denied the report, while GM cited its policy of not commenting on rumors. American Express also declined to comment.

Most industry watchers say they doubt the industrial companies have designs on American Express.

Salomon Brothers analyst Thomas P. Facciola dismissed the report as a "total fabrication," and as "someone thinking out loud."

Nevertheless, some analysts played with the numbers, working out pros and cons for each match.

According to Business Week, American Express could fetch $30 billion in a cash and stock deal at $60 a share, about a $15 premium over the company's market price.

Some analysts say they believe American Express could actually get more.

"I'm not sure $60 is enough,' said David B. Hilder of Morgan Stanley & Co. He estimated that within 12 months American Express' share price could appreciate to $52, and within three years to $70 or $80.

Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Ned Davis views American Express as a "compelling" takeover candidate. But large acquisitions typically occur when a company has a weak management team, when there are strong synergies between the buyer and seller, or when there is an opportunity to spin off certain businesses.

With the exception of American Express Bank, which the company tried but failed to sell, American Express does not fulfill those conditions, said Mr. Davis.

Moreover, GE owns a bank that is a member of both MasterCard and Visa, and GM markets a successful cobranded credit card with Household Bank. If either company bought American Express, the bank card associations might seek to fight or evict them.

Analysts see no evidence that American Express is shopping itself. So any takeover would likely be hostile.

As one analyst put it, the success of Wells Fargo & Co.'s hostile bid for First Interstate Bancorp may embolden some financial institutions to reconsider their options.

Mr. Hilder said the significance of the rumor is simply that financial companies have healthier balance sheets and capital positions.

"It says less about American Express than it does about market conditions right now," he said.

American Express chairman Harvey Golub joked about the rumor at a meeting Wednesday with securities analysts, said one who was there. Mr. Golub said his daughter was angry that she found out about it at school and not from him. More seriously, Mr. Golub noted that American Express would have to file documents with the Securities Exchange Commission if it were in negotiations, and it has not.

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