Investors ranged from Kentucky to Alaska last week in the quest to find the next takeover play in banking, with attention focusing on a pair of community banks.
Shares of the two banking companies, Mid-America Bancorp in Louisville, Ky., and National Bancorp of Alaska in Anchorage, have surged in recent weeks. During that run, the companies have been popular subjects in Internet chat rooms.
Of the two, analysts tended to view Mid-America as a more attractive takeover candidate but cautioned that at its current market valuation, there may be little or no room left for appreciation.
Mid-America's stock climbed 31% last week, reaching a high of $35.50 on Wednesday. Volume - usually in the low thousands - was well above normal, jumping above 100,000 shares on Friday. Its stock was trading at $34 at midday Monday.
Joseph Roberto, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York, said the activity "naturally leads one to suspect there is an acquisition brewing."
Mr. Roberto rattled off a pair of banks for whom a bid might make sense: Milwaukee-based Firstar Corp. or Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati. Both have offices in Louisville and may wish to expand there because of its hot economy, he said. Firstar declined to comment, and Fifth Third did not return calls.
Mid-America, the $1.6 billion-asset parent of Bank of Louisville, may also be attractive because it's a solid performer, Mr. Roberto said. For the third quarter, Mid-America posted $5.8 million in net income, a 32.5% increase from a year earlier. Mr. Roberto said he believes the company - with a book value of $16.60 per share - could fetch about $31 per share if acquired, about 10% lower than its current market value.
Mid-America officials did not return calls.
National Bancorp, with $3 billion of assets, is another banking company eyed as a potential seller. By Thursday its stock approached $34 a share, registering a 28% increase since Dec. 10. Edward Rasmuson, the company's chief executive officer, dismissed as "speculation" rumors in Internet chat rooms that a deal is brewing with San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., which does not have offices in Alaska.
"People have been looking at us for years," he said. National Bancorp's stock was trading at $32.06 midday Monday. Wells Fargo declined to comment.
Olaf Vleiks, an analyst at Hoeffer & Arnett in San Francisco, discounted National Bancorp's allure, arguing that Alaska is an unattractive market with a weak economy. "I just don't think there's really all that much demand to move into Alaska," he said.