Beneficial Corp.'s decision to review its "full range of tactical and strategic alternatives" sent its stock soaring Tuesday along with speculation about potential acquirers.
The Delaware-based finance company's share price jumped by $30.625, or 37%, to $112.875, after chairman and chief executive officer Finn M.W. Caspersen released a letter to shareholders saying it had asked financial advisers Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. to suggest ways to maximize shareholder value.
Mr. Caspersen said the alternatives could range from continuing the current course, which includes a tighter focus on U.S. core businesses, to an outright sale.
Takeover speculation centered on Associates First Capital Corp. of Dallas and Household International Inc. of Prospect Heights, Ill.- Beneficial's main finance company rivals.
Some observers said Beneficial would be attractive to an overseas bank seeking a foothold in the U.S. consumer credit market.
John Brink, president of NationsBank Corp.'s manufactured housing unit and a finance company veteran, said any deal for Beneficial would represent an extension of the consolidation wave that started in the banking industry.
Analysts speculated that Beneficial, with $17 billion of managed assets and 1,100 branch offices in the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland, would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion.
A merger with either Household or Associates would yield a company with approximately $67 billion of assets, roughly the size of BankBoston Corp., the 16th-largest bank holding company.
Acquisition by a bank is not out of the question, especially one from overseas, said Mr. Brink, citing Deutsche Bank's purchase of the consumer finance arm of ITT.
Analysts say that the announcement signals that Beneficial's 16-member board may have lost patience with the company's lagging performance.
"They have a history of disappointing the Street over the past five to seven years," said one analyst, citing the company's purchase of Harbour Island, a Florida residential development, and a consumer subsidiary in Germany. Beneficial announced in October that it was ridding itself of both these properties.
Last week it announced a definitive agreement to sell Beneficial Canada Holdings Inc. to Associates.
"It has not been a very smooth ride," said the anonymous analyst. "But the company has a pretty good franchise. There is some value there."
This is not the first time Beneficial has been seen as an acquiree. In May, Michael Durante, then an analyst with Prudential Securities, pegged Beneficial as a target, citing the company's valuable branch network and high but trimmable costs.
At that time, Mr. Caspersen did not rule out the possibility but said that he was planning on 30% to 40% growth in three to four years.
Beneficial's tradition of serving the "unbanked" dates back to its founding in 1914 by Col. Clarence Hodson, a Maryland Militia member and bank president. It catered to the "small wage earner," according to a Beneficial biography, and the philosophy has changed little as the company makes personal and home equity loans to customers that do not qualify for bank loans.