To say shares of thinly-graded BOK Financial Corp. have behaved erratically since the star[ of the year would be an understatement.
The company's stock price has bounced around haphazardly, and while there are a host of possible reasons for the unusual movement, some say it may be a sign the bank is for sale.
The $3.3 billion asset Tulsa, bank, whose main subsidiary is Bank of Oklahoma, has. long been considered an acquisition target.
In June the company announced it had registered 1.9 million shares with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It has not announced when it will issue the stock.
"The fact that the sale of previously issued stock is being apparently postponed may be indicative that something is in the works that would prevent the sale of stock by insiders" like the sale of the company, said Reid Nagle, president of SNL Securities.
Fourth Financial Corp., Banc One Corp. and Boatmen's Bancshares are all thought to be eyeing targets in the state.
While BOK Financial has not announced when it will issue the stock, a market maker for the company's stock at New York-based Herzog Heine Geduld said the company planned a secondary stock or rights issue sometime soon.
James A. White. BOK's chief financial officer, conceded the company had strongly considered a secondary stock issue, but said there was a lack of interest.
As a result, he added, it is highly unlikely the company would issue any of the registered stock soon.
Whatever the future, BOK's past stock performance more resembles a seismograph printout during a California earthquake than a bank stock.
Last Wednesday the stock surged $2.50, or 13% of its value, on less than a 1000 shares traded. As has been typical of other severe movements, the shares have been stable in the following days.
Some of the zigzagging can be attributed to thin volume and the wide $1.25 per share spread between the bid and ask prices, analysts said.
The bid is what a market maker. or broker, is will.ing to pay for the stock. and the ask, or offer price, is what the market makers are willing to sell it for. The spread usually is a fraction of a dollar.
On such thinly traded stocks, a market maker buying or selling 300 shares or so can move the stock precipitously one way or the other. And in BOK's case, the unusually large bid-ask spread -- demanded by the brokers because of the weak volume magnifies the movement.
More than 80% of the bank's public stock is owned by chairman and CEO George B. Kaiser. who bought the bank from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. three years ago.
But rather than sell off his stock. he has chosen to dilute his stake through acquisitions. For example, last year he owned more than 90% of the company, but after recent acquisitions it is down to 81.1%.
The company is interested in reducing Mr. Kaiser's stock strength further, Mr. White said2 But BOK would not issue secondary stock just for the proposes of diluting his shares, he explained.
BOK has also strongly expressed an interest in expanding, particularly beyond Oklahoma where it is one of the top three banks, and into Kansas and Texas.
In May, Bank of Oklahoma bought a small in-state bank, and a $210 million asset institution in Arkansas, marking the bank's entry into that state.
Like other banks of its size, BOK will not say it is bulking up to make it more attractive to outside bidders, but this is what analysts strongly suspect.
The bank faces sizable competition within its own market as outof-state competitors have made sudden and aggressive moves in recent years.
Fourth Financial, Banc One, and Boatmen's have moved into the state. and are rumored to be eyeing other targets, including BOK and Liberty Bancorp.
Oklahoma's economic dependence on oil is reduced, and its economy has rebounded, said Joseph Stieven of Stifel, Nickolaus & Co.
"The state of Oklahoma will be similar to many midwestern states: There will be a high degree of consolidation from outside the state," he said.
Mike Ancell of Edward D. Jones & Co. in St. Louis., said instate consolidation would probably follow first, before out-of-state acquirers began acquiring wholehearreally within the state.
Either way, unless or until the company is bought, BOK's bumpy stock ride figures to continue.