Two weeks after calling off a merger with Hudson United Bancorp. that would have been voted on today, Dime Bancorp shareholders are waiting to see whether North Fork Bancorp will raise its hostile bid or whether a new merger partner will come forward.

Analysts have been speculating that M&T Bank Corp. in Buffalo might step in with a bid, possibly for as much as $20 to $25 a share.

M&T Bank, which has grown by acquisition in upstate and central New York and has a small presence in New York City, "would be a very logical acquirer," said Lana Chan, an analyst at CIBC World Markets in New York. "They have been a great cost-cutter and integrator."

A spokesman for M&T Bank declined to comment Tuesday, as did a Dime spokeswoman.

When New York-based Dime called off its plan to merge with Hudson, of Mahwah, N.J., it said it was exploring strategic options including a sale or staying independent. It has rescheduled its shareholder meeting for June 29.

The Dime-Hudson deal was scrapped after it became clear that a good portion of Dime's shareholders favored a higher bid from Melville, N.Y.-based North Fork, which has a reputation as a fierce cost-cutter.

North Fork's unsolicited bid of March 5 called for an exchange of 0.9302 shares for each Dime share, plus $2 for each Dime share. That worked out to about $16.30 per share of Dime, which closed at $14.875 on March 6.

That original offer is now under water. As of Friday, North Fork's bid was valued at $16.83 per share of Dime, which closed at $18 that day. As of Monday, when Dime closed at $17.625, the bid was valued at $16.94 a share.

Still, North Fork has indicated a willingness to raise its bid if Dime management shows signs it would be willing to negotiate.

"North Fork's body language has been that it is amenable to raising its bid," said Marni Pont O'Doherty, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "They have opened the door, but they want Dime to walk through it."

Analysts and shareholders said M&T Bank senior management has indicated a willingness in recent years to expand its share in the New York metropolitan area as a way to buttress slower-growing markets in the northern part of the state.

Other potential buyers mentioned in recent weeks include Citigroup and HSBC USA Inc., the New York unit of HSBC Holdings PLC of London, which is absorbing the operations of Republic New York Corp.

ABN Amro, the Chicago unit of the Dutch financial firm of the same name, was also rumored to be a bidder. In recent interviews, however, executives of that company have downplayed the speculation.

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