In the latest skirmish in a five-year feud, an activist shareholder has mounted a campaign to force the sale of Eagle Bancshares.
J.C. Serrato Jr., a doctor in Columbus, Ga., submitted a shareholder proposal last week demanding that Eagle's board take steps to sell the company.
Eagle, a $934 million-asset company in Tucker, Ga., is the parent of Tucker Federal Savings and Loan Association. Dr. Serrato argued that, while the Atlanta region has enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years, Eagle shareholders "have missed the economic boat.
"Management has demonstrated its inability to implement any effective business plan," he said. "The obvious solution is the sale of the company."
Dr. Serrato's office referred calls to attorney W. Thomas King, who was not available to comment. But in his proposal, Dr. Serrato highlighted three areas of concern: Eagle's flat stock price, its "misuse" of capital raised in a 1996 secondary offering, and the dilution of earnings per share since Eagle's purchase of Southern Crescent Financial Corp. in October 1996.
Richard B. Inman Jr., president and chief executive officer of Eagle's thrift subsidiary, dismissed Dr. Serrato's proposal, calling his analysis "flawed."
He pointed out that since the offering of 1.3 million shares in February 1996, Eagle's loan portfolio has grown to $674 million from $381 million and that total assets are up almost $400 million. What's more, he said, earnings per share have gone up-not down-since Eagle's purchase of Southern Crescent, based in Morrow, Ga.
"We have diluted his percent of ownership through our offering and the acquisition," Mr. Inman said. "But we have not diluted the earnings."
Tucker's per-share earnings did drop noticeably after it bought Southern Crescent, from 27 cents in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 1996, to 4 cents the next quarter. Earnings per share have since rebounded, however, climbing back to 31 cents in the most recent quarter.
This is not the first time Dr. Serrato, who owns 4.79% of Eagle's outstanding shares, has butted heads with management. In 1993, he introduced his own slate of directors at an annual meeting. That slate was defeated.
The next year, he proposed eliminating Eagle's poison pill, a provision that was also shot down.
In the most recent challenge, Dr. Serrato asked fellow shareholders to support his efforts to include his proposal in Eagle's 1998 proxy statement. The company has not yet scheduled its annual meeting.
Dr. Serrato's challenge has not gone unnoticed by investors. After months of trading in the $20 to $21 range, Eagle's stock reached a high of $26 last week. In late trading Wednesday, it was up 62.5 cents, to $26.
Despite Dr. Serrato's efforts to force a sale, Mr. Inman said Eagle Bancshares is committed to remaining independent.
"We have said for the last two years we want to take advantage of the consolidation in this market to become one of Atlanta's flagship community banks," he said. "We feel good about our future."