After a month and a half of unusual trading volume and merger rumors, Bay Ridge Bancorp is fishing for a merger partner.

The Brooklyn-based thrift holding company said it is exploring its options to boost shareholder value, including a possible merger. The $584 million-asset company is also considering an expanded stock repurchase program and cash dividend policy.

Bay Ridge officials stressed that the company has not committed itself to any particular plan.

The company noted in a recent statement that the increased trading activity has inflated its stock price.

Bay Ridge officials are "out there looking for $22 a share," but a couple of institutions have already rejected the company's entreaties, according to an institutional investor active in thrifts.

"The ones they've gone to so far have not been interested at that price," the investor said.

Analyst speculation puts likely acquirers as Independence Savings Bank and GP Financial Corp., both of Brooklyn, and Astoria Financial Corp., in the New York City borough of Queens.

But Philip C. Colaco, senior research analyst at SNL Securities, noted that Bay Ridge's financial adviser, KPMG Peat Marwick LLP Global Capital Group, is not a major player in New York City's merger market, suggesting Bay Ridge might be favoring a stock repurchase.

On three occasions since Jan. 12, Bay Ridge's daily trading volume has soared above 1 million of the company's six million shares - the highest levels since last April.

Its stock price has also soared to $18, up 41% since Dec. 22.

The thrift's average daily trading volume was about 120,000 shares before Dec. 23, when the unusual trading started.

Neither analysts nor thrift officials knew who was doing the buying and selling or where the rumors were coming from.

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