Anchor Bancorp in Lacey, Wash., could eventually sell itself after reaching a truce with an activist investor.
The $379 million-asset company said in a press release Thursday that it will allow Joel Lawson IV to appoint a representative to its board. Lawson’s bid for a board seat received backing from two-thirds of Anchors shareholders at Wednesday’s annual meeting even though the investor did not meet the company’s residency requirement.
Lawson’s designee will also chair a new committee authorized to hire an investment bank and explore strategic alternatives. Often, such moves serve as a prelude to a company’s sale.
“We are not only grateful for the shareholder support we received, but just as importantly, appreciate the valuable input from all of our shareholders,” Jerald Shaw, Anchor’s president and chief executive, said in the release. “We fully understand and agree with the message that the shareholder vote provided of the shareholders’ desire that the company carefully review its strategic options to maximize shareholder value. In this regard, we look forward to working with the new director and our board … in management’s continuing efforts to enhance our shareholder value.”
“I am deeply appreciative of the overwhelming support of my fellow shareholders,” Lawson, who owns 8.9% of Anchor’s stock, said in the release. “It is my strong conviction that the mutually beneficial arrangement we reached with Anchor for the addition of an independent new director on the board and the formation of a strategy committee … will serve as catalysts for meaningful value enhancement.”
Lawson has been one of Anchor's biggest investors since 2011. Lawson pursued a proposal for Anchor’s sale in 2013, which the company sought to exclude. He also pushed for the company to sell in 2014, but met resistance from fellow activist investor Joseph Stilwell.
In defense of his 2015 candidacy, Lawson pointed to Anchor's underperformance compared to selected peers such as Timberland Bancorp and Pacific Financial on measures that included loan growth and return on average assets. He also raised concern with the announcement of a stock incentive plan for top executives, which he viewed as excessive given Anchor's financial results. Anchor reported net income of $9.8 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, up from $423,000 a year earlier. Return on assets for the year was 0.43%, while the return on equity was 3.10%.