Astoria in N.Y. Faces Pressure from Investor to Explore Options

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An Astoria Financial investor is demanding that the Lake Success, N.Y., company explore a possible sale or other ways to increase shareholder value.

The investor, Basswood Capital Management in New York, is also seeking a board seat at the $15.3 billion-asset company, according to a regulatory filing.

Astoria "has substantial opportunities in the current environment to take steps to enhance shareholder value, either on a stand-alone basis or in a business combination or sale transaction," Basswood said in the filing.

Matthew Lindenbaum, a managing member at Basswood, met with Astoria's chief executive, Monte Redman, on Thursday and proposed giving Basswood a board seat. Basswood had not received a response from Astoria as of Tuesday.

Redman said in an interview that he has been in contact with Basswood for several years and that the investor's request for a board seat will be handled "within our normal governance process."

"Basswood has been a long-term investor in Astoria," Redman said.

Basswood owns about 9.2% of Astoria, or about 9.3 million shares. Basswood paid a total of about $114.5 million to acquire about 8.2 million shares; it also obtained an additional 1.1 million shares from its previous ownership of shares in Long Island Bancorp. Astoria acquired Long Island in 1998.

Basswood owned shares in numerous banks as of May 15, including JPMorgan Chase; Regions Financial in Birmingham, Ala.; and Metro Bancorp in Harrisburg, Pa.

Astoria last month reported higher second-quarter profit of $31.4 million, compared to a year earlier, as it was boosted by growth in mortgage banking and commercial lending. Astoria's shares have risen 26% over the past morning and traded at $16.11 per share, in late trading Tuesday.

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