GE Capital Corp., a unit of General Electric Co., is said to be looking at Advanta Corp. even though the Spring House, Pa., credit card issuer is in talks to be acquired by Fleet Financial Corp.
GE Capital's interest, according to several sources, could delay the announcement of a deal between Fleet and Advanta, which had been expected this week.
Like other companies, GE Capital, the nation's ninth-largest credit card issuer, had expressed some interest in Advanta. But GE Capital's interest apparently became active on news of Advanta's talks with Fleet.
A GE Capital spokesman declined comment on speculation that the company is in talks with Advanta. Officials at Advanta were unavailable.
Reports that Fleet was in talks with Advanta first surfaced last week after a high-ranking Fleet executive was reached at Advanta's headquarters.
Boston-based Fleet reportedly planned to buy Advanta for a tentative price of $44.50 a share, or a deal worth $2.4 million.
However, that may change if Advanta seriously considers GE Capital's offer. "A bidding war could ensue," said one analyst, who declined to be identified.
Michael Granger, an analyst at Fox-Pitt, Kelton Inc., New York, noted that GE Capital has "more financial muscle than Fleet."
In fact, GE Capital is the largest private-label credit card business in the world. The subsidiary alone is responsible for 40% of General Electric Co.'s earnings.
Market experts also noted that GE Capital has successfully pulled off a series of acquisitions recently. In the last three years, the company has done 76 acquisitions, mostly in Europe.
The market's response to Fleet's overtures has been mixed.
On Monday, Fleet's shares fell 37.5 cents, to $65.93, on a day when most banks shares were up. Advanta class A shares were down 56.2 cents, to $36.187, while its class B shares declined 56.2 cents, to $34.625.
"I don't think the market would look positively on this deal in the short term," said Mr. Granger. "It would be the third major transaction announced recently, and Fleet company admittedly is not an expert card issuer."
At the same time, a Fleet-Advanta deal offers positives, notably cost savings, Mr. Granger said.
Several market sources dismissed the idea that Advanta would sell off pieces.
"There are no tax implications to shareholders if Fleet were to acquire Advanta with stock, but if they had to pay cash for a piece of the businessthat would be taxable to their shareholders," one observer said.
In other news Monday, Credit Suisse First Boston downgraded CoreStates Financial Corp. to "hold" from "buy." The Philadelphia bank has been the focus of attention since Mellon Bank Corp. said last week its merger bid was rejected.
"We do not see a great amount of upside left in the name," analyst Michael L. Mayo said.
Shares of CoreStates fell $1.25, to $72.562. The Standard & Poor's bank index rose 0.55%, while the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.34%. The Nasdaq bank index grew 0.04%, and the S&P 500 increased 0.12%.