Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. Inc. dropped coverage for 15 banking companies this week.
A spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va., company said 10 of the companies were covered by Laurie Hunsicker, who is expected to begin an extended maternity leave in mid-April. Ms. Hunsicker has been with the company for 17 years and had covered 21 banking and thrift companies before the coverage change. A spokeswoman said Ms. Hunsicker was unavailable for comment.
To determine which companies to drop, Friedman Billings said it looked for, among other things, those with a market capitalization threshold below $600 million. All but one of the companies dropped fit that parameter, the spokeswoman said.
James Abbott covered the other five companies, which were dropped because of a reallocation of resources, the spokeswoman said. Mr. Abbott will continue to cover at least 20 companies.
Friedman Billings said Ms. Hunsicker dropped coverage for the $3 billion-asset WSFS Financial Corp. in Wilmington, Del.; the $8.1 billion-asset First Niagara Financial Group Inc. in Lockport, N.Y.; the $3.75 billion-asset Partners Trust Financial Group Inc. in Utica, N.Y.; the $914 million-asset Benjamin Franklin Bancorp Inc., in Franklin, Mass.; the $2.9 billion-asset Independent Bank Corp. in Rockland, Mass.; the $2.9 billion-asset KNBT Bancorp Inc. of Lehigh Valley, Pa.; the $2.2 billion-asset Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc., in Pittsfield, Mass.; and the $2.4 billion-asset Washington Trust Bancorp Inc. in Westerly, R.I. Ms Hunsicker had rated all "market perform." She also dropped coverage of the $2.8 billion-asset Provident New York Bancorp in Montebello, which she had rated "underperform," and the $808 million-asset Legacy Bancorp Inc. in Pittsfield, Mass., which she had rated "outperform."
Legacy and Benjamin Franklin are now being covered by just one analyst, Bret Ginesky at Stifel Financial Corp., who rates Legacy "hold" and Benjamin Franklin "buy." A Legacy spokesman confirmed that Friedman Billings had discussed the market-cap threshold as a reason for dropping coverage. He said he is not concerned about diminished coverage.
Mr. Abbott, who has been with Friedman Billings for 10 years, dropped the $4.8 billion-asset Westamerica Bancorp of San Rafael, Calif., which he rated "underperform." He also dropped coverage of several other California companies, including the $3.4 billion-asset ITLA Capital Corp. of La Jolla, which he rated "market peform."
Friedman Billings said other analysts probably will pick up some of Ms. Hunsicker's companies in the next few weeks.