An impatient Bank Plus Corp. investor is urging the board of the ailing Los Angeles-based thrift company to let shareholders decide its future.
Jeffrey L. Gendell, whose investment fund owns 9.97% of Bank Plus, said this week that if a bona fide bid is made to buy the company directors should present the offer to shareholders, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
He cited a recent article in American Banker that said Bank Plus' directors had turned down an offer of $9 per share-or roughly $175 million- from Bay View Capital Corp. of San Mateo, Calif. The offer did not include Bank Plus' troubled credit card portfolio.
"We would be quite dismayed if such an offer were made and not presented to the shareholders," wrote Mr. Gendell, managing director of New York- based Tontine Management LLC.
Shares of Bank Plus have been trading in a $5.1875 to $6.375 range for the past 60 days. They were trading at $5.875 at midday Thursday.
Mr. Gendell added that any offer from a regional institution that can swiftly improve operations, "clean up the remaining credit card portfolio, and take advantage of the Bank Plus deposit franchise" must be considered.
Bank Plus, with $3.2 billion of assets, is restructuring its subprime credit card operations. The parent of Fidelity Federal Bank, Bank Plus lost more than $56 million last year.
It recorded a second-quarter loss of $15.6 million, or 80 cents per share, compared with a loss of $1.2 million, or 6 cents per share, a year earlier.
Still, the company is attractive to some suitors because of its large deposit base in one of the nation's hottest markets. Bank Plus operates 38 branches in Southern California with $2.6 billion of deposits.
Last summer, it hired the New York investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. to help find a buyer.
In an interview this week, Mark K. Mason, president and chief executive officer of Bank Plus, said the board continues to explore a sale. The stumbling block, he said, is the $280 million-asset credit card business.
"The board has held discussions with numerous parties, none of which are interested in acquiring the credit card portfolio," Mr. Mason said.
He would not elaborate on the extent of those talks and would not say whether a sale is imminent.
In a letter to the board, Mr. Gendell also questioned whether Mr. Mason is the right person to lead a turnaround. A former chief financial officer, Mr. Mason took the company's helm last September after CEO Richard M. Greenwood resigned.
"While we do not have specific concerns about Mark himself, who we find a capable manager," Mr. Gendell wrote, "we were concerned with his ability to quickly turn around the situation, given that he was an insider."
Bank Plus' other large shareholders include Washington, D.C.-based Hovde Financial Inc. and Kalamazoo, Mich.-based LaSalle Financial Partners. Hovde declined to comment, and LaSalle did not return telephone calls.
One analyst who tracks Bank Plus, David B. Moore of Podesta & Co. in Chicago, said that until the credit card mess is cleaned up-probably in six to nine months-any talk of a sale is premature.
Mr. Moore said the board probably would pull the trigger if a $9-per- share offer included the credit card operation.
"Without the credit card portfolio, I think they would want a higher price," he said.