It will take more than big layoffs for Chase Manhattan Corp. to win the hearts of investors.
In the wake of published report that the bank plans to lay off 3,000 to 6,000 employees, Chase's stock barely moved on Tuesday. The stock fell 25 cents, to $47.25, amid a general decline in bank stocks.
Normally, news of cost-cutting efforts lifts bank stocks, but investors appear to be awaiting bigger developments at Chase.
In one sign that a more radical configuration may be in the offing, activist shareholder Michael F. Price was said to be moving forward in his campaign to spin off portions of the nation's sixth-largest bank.
Several market sources said Mr. Price has focused his attention on Chase's big credit card operation.
Responding to the report of layoffs, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chase executives denied the bank has set any specific target for job cuts as a result of the current review of operations.
"Any numbers are purely speculation," said Deborah Talbot, executive vice president for global payments and treasury services.
"We are at the beginning of a process and not at the end, so we can't say what the end will be."
Others said the end might be dictated more by what Mr. Price and other activist shareholders desire than by bank management.
With credit card companies generally trading at 12 to 15 times earnings and banks trading closer to eight, some saw the spinoff of Chase's big credit card operation as an obvious strategy to enhance shareholder value.
Neither representatives at Heine Securities Inc., Mr. Price's investment arm, nor investment bankers who were said to be evaluating the portfolio, would confirm the rumors.
"No one has come in to look at our portfolio," said John A. Ward 3d, executive vice president in charge of Chase's credit cards, adding that Chase has never said it was willing to sell the unit.
Robert K. Hammer, chairman of R.K. Hammer Investment Bankers, said that his operation handles most credit card portfolio evaluations and it is not working on a sale for Chase.
Nonetheless, some pointed out that the regulatory filing by Heine when its 6.1% stake in Chase was disclosed indicated an intention to bring the value of the company in line with the value of several of its business lines, including credit cards.
"The credit card operation has a higher multiple than Chase," said Richard X. Bove, a bank analyst with Raymond James in Tampa. "It's easy to figure out what way Mr. Price is thinking," and he is looking for operations that are worth more outside the bank than inside it, said Mr. Bove.
Mr. Bove said that banks have often found value by spinning off their credit card operations. He pointed to Signet Banking Corp's spinoff of Capital One Financial. "If you think about it, when you make Capital One a spinoff, it's worth more than it was in the bank."
Analysts pointed out that Chase has already taken steps to divest itself of other businesses and units to enhance shareholder value.
On Monday, the bank announced the sale of its Maryland branches and some loans to Crestar Financial Corp..
"Banks don't fire (people) left and right," said Mr. Bove of Raymond James. "Most of the cuts arise because of a reduction in the number of divisions they operate."
Mr. Bove said that Michael Price has had an "extremely positive impact," forcing the bank to go out and sell assets with low returns.
"They're doing all the right things," said Mr. Bove. "If the market doesn't respond favorably to it, it'll be shocking."
Some analysts, however, said the bank has a way to go to improve its earnings stream.
"The other piece of the question is what the revenue implications will be of cutting costs," said Ray Soifer, a bank analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
The basic problem Chase has is that its revenues in its core businesses are sluggish, said Mr. Soifer.
Mr. Bove estimates that Chase has two years to prove something significant to shareholders.
"The issue is whether they can get the price of that high enough so the thought of breaking up the bank wouldn't make any sense," said Mr. Bove. "If they can't do it by then, it'll be broken up."
James R. Kraus and Lisa Fickenscher contributed to this report.