Shares of First Fidelity Ban-corp. had a volatile day on Thursday but seem to have braked a decline that puzzled some analysts.
After opening an hour late because of an order imbalance, and later surrendering a gain of $1.375, the stock was up 12.5 cents to $45.125 in late afternoon.
Up on the Week
A spokesman for First Fidelity said the bank is unaware of any other reason for the late opening or the sudden spike-up in its stock price.
The stock is up 3% this week but is still 12% under the peak it reached earlier this year
What puzzled watchers of the New Jersey superregional's stock was its nearly unbroken fall despite a stream of positive news announcements.
"Obviously, the herd instinct among investors can be incredibly strong," said Elizabeth A. Summers, banking analyst at Ryan, Beck & Co.
"This is a bank where the best case seemed to be presented on a regular basis, but the stock kept moving down," she said. "Finally, somebody apparently decided otherwise."
Analyst Target Unchanged
"It has been a little hard to understand, but I still have a $60 target on the stock" for early next year, Ms. Summers added.
"I've talked with our traders many times about it," said Carla A. D'Arista of Bear, Stearns & Co."First came selling and then no market participation."
Hurt in Selloff
But Ms. D'Arista emphasized that "we like First Fidelity. It has been one of our favorite stocks and still is."
Like other strong regional banks, First Fidelity had excellent first-quarter earnings but was buffeted by a selloff on profit-taking and worries about inflation and interest rates.
First Fidelity reported a record first-quarter profit of $95 million, up 45% from a year earlier, on April 13. That day, its stock price hit $50.75 per share.
A day earlier, the company had announced completion of its purchase of certain assets and deposits of Pitcairn Private Bank, Philadelphia, and a marketing alliance with the acquired bank's parent, Pitcairn Trust Co.
Two days after the earnings announcement, First Fidelity said it was buying all eight branches of Dime Savings Bank of New Jersey and their $324 million of deposits.
A week later, the bank said it was increasing its quarterly dividend by 12.1% to 37 cents per share from 33 cents. It was the second increase in the payout in six months.
Merger Seen as Favorable
On April 23, the shareholders of Northeast Bancorp, Stamford, Conn., voted to approved a merger with First Fidelity. The deal is viewed on Wall Street as perhaps the most advantageous for an acquiring bank since Nations Bank Corp. entered Texas by buying First Republic Bank Corp. in 1988.
But the stock responded on Monday, April 26, by sinking to its low point of the year - $42.12. At that price, the shares had not only fallen 16.3% from their peak, but were below the $44 at which they had begun the year.
First Fidelity has since gotten nods from analysts as undervalued and won a ruling from a federal judge against Bank of New York Co., now on appeal, that averted a delay in the Northeast deal.