One of the banking industry's most influential analysts is predicting a sharp pickup in merger activity next quarter - and sees AmSouth Bancorp. and Shawmut National Corp. as among the most likely takeover targets.
The merger picks, by Thomas Hanley of First Boston Corp., are somewhat surprising. Am-South, based in Alabama, and Connecticut's Shawmut are both big players in their regions, and each has said they plan to remain independent. Either would fetch more than $1 billion.
But Mr. Hanley has a good track record at picking targets. He put a buy on Dominion Bankshares Corp. months ago. The Roanoke, Va., bank last week accepted a merger offer from First Union Corp.
He also recommended Puget Sound Bancorp, Tacoma, Wash., and Valley National Corp., Phoenix, before they accepted merger bids from Key-Corp and Banc One Corp., respectively.
"We believe that M&A activity will accelerate during the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year, assuming that bank stock prices hold." said Mr. Hanley in an interview. "We've seen spotty activity so far this year, and we think it will pick up."
Others on the List
Also on Mr. Hanley's list of banks likely to be bought over the next 12 to 24 months are BayBanks Inc., Boston; Crestar Financial Corp. and Signet Banking Corp., both in Richmond; West One Bancorp, Boise, Idaho; and UJB Financial Corp., Princeton, N.J.
Remaining takeover candidates are Union Planters Corp., Memphis; Hibernia Corp., New Orleans; Deposit Guaranty Corp., Jackson, Miss.; Liberty Bancorp, Oklahoma City; Hawkeye Bancorp., Des Moines; and Cullen/Frost Bankers, San Antonio, Tex.
The banks on Mr. Hanley's list either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
The analyst also drew up a list of potential buyers that included Banc One Corp., BankAmerica Corp., Bank of New York Corp., and Society Corp.
Three southern banks made the buyers' list as well: Wachovia Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C.; Sun Trust Banks Inc., Atlanta: and Barnett Banks Inc.. Jacksonville, Fla.
Most of the potential acquirers wouldn't comment on their plans. But Banc One said it is interested in expansion.
Mr. Hanley refused to pair buyers and sellers.
No Effect on Stock Prices
Though disclosed to First Boston clients on Thursday, his recommendations had not been widely disseminated and had no discernible effect on stock prices Friday.
Mr. Hanley said the takeover candidates share some attributes that make them ripe for takeover.
First, they have had three consecutive quarters of improving credit quality. Second, each of the banks has either sold stock in a public offering or plans a sale.
Acquirers seek banks that can demonstrate investor confidence, and stock offerings are a reliable sign of market sentiment, Mr. Hanley said.
Stable Real Estate Markets
Furthermore, banks in the Southeast and Southwest have another factor in their favor in attracting a buyer. The real estate prices have stabilized in those regions, said Mr. Hanley.
"If you are an acquirer, you can draw more comfort now in terms of what might be needed for writedowns," he said.
Hawkeye is the lone midwestern bank on his list of sellers. It has the biggest deposit market share in Iowa, a state that's been largely left out of merger and acquisitions activity.
Of course, Mr. Hanley isn't the only analyst trying to pick the next Dominion or Valley National. The shares at several of his choices began to gain ground a month ago, sparked by takeover rumors. Crestar shares, for example, have risen about 10% since Sept. 1, and were trading late Friday at $29.75.
In addition, Cullen/Frost's shares, rose from $24.50 on Sept. 1 to $29.75 Friday, setting a new 52-week high. Money managers said that the Texas bank rejected an offer from Banc One and that other banks are considering making bids. Both banks declined to comment.A BAKER'S DOZEN Banks likeliest to be bought,according to Thomas Hanleyof First Boston Corp. Market capitalization(*)Bank (millions)Shawmut National CorpHartford, Conn. 1,312AmSouth Bancorp.Birmingham, Ala. 1,138Signet Banking CorpRichmond, Va. 1,042Crester Financial 966Richmond, Va.UJB FinancialPrinceton, N.J. 799West One BancorpBoise, Idaho 575BayBanks Inc.Boston 470Deposit Guaranty Corp.Jackson, Miss. 376Union Planters Corp.Memphis, Tenn. 309Cullen/Frost BankersSan Antonio, Tex. 274Liberty BancorpOklahoma City 235Hibermia BancorpNew Orleans 149Hawkeye BancorpDes Moines, Iowa 126(*) Share prices as of 3p.m. Friday; sharesoutstanding as of June 30Sources: First Boston Corp., Reuters