BankAtlantic Bancorp of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., emphatically stated last week that it's not for sale - which came as a surprise because no one ever thought it was.
Alan B. Levan, the company's chairman and chief executive, made a point at the annual shareholders meeting of declaring the thrift's commitment to remaining independent. The company's board of directors even passed a resolution to that effect, stating that the thrift would continue to serve its customers as a stand-alone entity.
Was there ever any question that it wouldn't?
"It was such an odd statement to make," said Deborah R. Beylus, equity analyst at J.W. Charles Securities Inc. in Boca Raton. "I was surprised they would make such a blanket statement like that."
Ms. Beylus and other analysts said they were surprised by the statement in part because there has been virtually no speculation that the $1.8 billion-asset thrift company would be sold. Almost half of the thrift's stock is owned internally, keeping BankAtlantic's destiny firmly in its own hands.
Even the thrift admitted as much.
"I know of no such conversations (about being acquired)," said David Finkelman, head of BankAtlantic's corporate communications. "That's not to say that there are not institutions taking a good look at us, but to my knowledge there have not been any inquiries or formal discussions."
Analysts offered several theories for BankAtlantic's seemingly unwarranted announcement. First, it could trigger speculation in BankAtlantic's stock and drive up the price. The thrift's trading multiples have been low - its recent ratio of price to estimated 1995 earnings, for example, is 5.9, well below its peer group average of 14.5.
"They've been very upset over their P/E multiple," Ms. Beylus said. "They probably feel their stock price is being unfairly discounted because they're a savings bank and not a bank."
Dissatisfaction with the company's thrift status was, in fact, reflected in the company's second announcement of the day: It intends to convert to a commercial bank within six to nine months, depending on what happens with the federal legislation that would merge bank and thrift charters.
Another theory holds that the statement was simply a marketing ploy.
"It was just intelligent marketing strategy," offered James P. Benson, director of research at Ryan, Beck & Co. in West Orange, N.J. "There's so much turmoil and change going on that they were trying to signal their customers that they expect to be a player for the foreseeable future."
The thrift may also be trying to reach out to disgruntled customers from Florida's recently acquired savings banks, he said. Whatever the case, the stock price rose 25 cents the day after the meeting to $17, a 52-week high.