The recent plunge in Roslyn Bancorp's stock price is a wake-up call to New York-area thrifts that prices may be as high as they are going to get, analysts say. And it may encourage many fence-sitters who have been holding out for even richer prices to sell soon, they say.
Partly as a result, analysts say, such smaller companies as Haven Bancorp, Brooklyn, and Reliance Bancorp, Garden City, N.Y., are likely to make deals before Labor Day. And they note a handful of thrifts that have raised capital in recent initial public offerings are likely buyers.
The gyrations in Roslyn's stock since its deal with T R Financial Corp. could "spread the view that things may have reached a peak," said analyst Thomas O'Donnell of Smith Barney. The deal's rich price "could represent an outer edge as to what the market is going to bear," concurred James Ackor, an analyst with Tucker Anthony Inc., Portland, Maine.
The Roslyn, N.Y., thrift's stock price was 15% lower as of midday Monday than on May 22, when it announced that it would pay an astonishing 28 times earnings for T R, an unexceptional neighboring thrift. Last Thursday, Roslyn's stock was below the floor price at which T R Financial had agreed to sell, triggering concern that the deal would be dissolved if the dip were sustained.
Mr. O'Donnell and Mr. Ackor expect several deals between now and Labor Day because the period represents a unique window of opportunity.
Many thrifts are leaning toward selling because they do not want to handle the year-2000 technology fix on their own, but they cannot negotiate the combinations much later than Labor Day, the analysts said. Deals announced after then run the risk of closing too late to successfully integrate the computer systems of the combining thrifts before 2000, they said. The fourth quarter and all of 1999 are expected to be quiet for mergers for that reason.
Mr. Ackor said Haven Bancorp, which has about $2 billion of assets, and $2.25 billion-asset Reliance Bancorp are both likely targets.
He said two capital-rich thrifts that, like Roslyn, have recently converted from mutual to stock ownership may show up among the ranks of the acquirers. The two thrifts are Independence Community Bank, Brooklyn, and Richmond County Bancorp, Staten Island.
What of the New York area's big thrifts-Dime Bancorp, Astoria Financial Corp., and GreenPoint Financial Corp.? For years analysts have been waiting for one or another of them to combine-creating a larger, leaner institution that would be a better target for an out-of-state player than any of them are individually.
But Mr. Ackor said it is unlikely that any of these thrifts would give up their independence this year, though one or more may announce purchases by Labor Day.
Greenpoint's low-doc and manufactured housing mortgages give it "fundamental earnings power," Mr. Ackor said, making it unlikely it would sell. And Astoria's recent agreement to buy Long Island Bancorp shows that it "wants to continue growing" on its own, he said.
At Dime, chairman Lawrence J. Toal is "clearly the key," Mr. Ackor said.
"He's in control of the situation. They've been producing fantastic results," he said. "There is no glaring incentive to sell the bank at this time. Life is pretty good."