Three and a half months have passed since Bankers First Corp. of Augusta, Ga., started considering buyout offers.

After losing a brutal proxy fight at the annual shareholders meeting in May, officials of the thrift announced that they had begun speaking with representatives of several banks and that the talks should "continue over the next several weeks."

That was June 7. There hasn't been a peep since.

"I'd say it's getting real close," said Ben Bishop of Allen C. Ewing & Co. of Jacksonville, Fla. "My sense is that we should hear something within the next two or three weeks."

Jerry Shearer, who as managing partner of Mid-Atlantic Investors of Columbia, S.C., spearheaded the proxy fight to force the sale of the $1.1 billion-asset thrift company, said only that he has heard the same rumors as everyone else - nothing more.

"I don't want to speculate," he said.

So what's taking so long?

"Stockholders voted for management to seek out the best purchase agreement for the company," said Edmond "Max" Smith, a vice president in the Augusta office of Robinson-Humphrey Co. and a Bankers First shareholder. "So there's a lot of pressure on the bank to do that. It could be anytime."

Topping the latest list of banks that might be interested in Bankers First is Bank South Corp., the $7.7 billion-asset Atlanta company. SNL Securities of Charlottesville, Va., reported last week that Bank South is a bidder for the Augusta thrift. Neither institution would comment.

The other names repeatedly mentioned are SouthTrust Corp., Birmingham, Ala.; Wachovia Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C.; Synovus Financial Corp., Columbus, Ga.; and, as always, NationsBank Corp., Charlotte, N.C.

Bankers First's stock price has fluctuated recently, reaching $30.25 last Monday, sinking $1 the following day, then climbing back to $29.75 last Thursday. The stock has jumped 63% in value this year.

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