Insider buying in the banking industry slowed in late January and in February, and insider selling increased, as stock prices rebounded from 1994 lows.
Executives at regionals like BayBanks Inc., Washington Mutual Inc., Fort Wayne Corp. and Mark Twain Bancshares demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm for their banks with large purchases in the last month and a half.
However, at CoreStates Financial Corp, Union Bank San Francisco and UJB Financial Corp., insiders unloaded large positions or exercised options and immediately sold them.
"Bank stocks got very cheap at the end of last year and there was a lot of value buying among insiders," said Robert Gabele, president of CDA/Investnet, which provided the data.
But with rising bank stock prices, insider buying slowed down in February, he said. "Maybe some of the dollar concerns caused people to be more cautious," he added, referring to the decline in the U.S. dollar's value. Mr. Gabele said it remains to be seen whether the slowdown would continue.
At BayBanks Inc. of Boston, which has been the target of merger speculation since Fleet Financial Group Inc. bought Shawmut National Corp. in mid-February, executives exercised options at the end of that month.
Chairman William M. Crozier exercised an option on 4,155 shares on Feb. 27 at a price of $36, and now holds 78,670 shares. BayBanks closed at tktkt Friday, down tktk.
In all, BayBanks insiders exercised options on 18,432 shares in the last week of February. The options were not due until next year, Mr. Gabele said.
A bank spokesman said the transactions were "routine" and made under the company's employee stock plan.
At Fort Wayne Corp., Fort Wayne, Ind., another regional bank viewed as a takeover candidate, insiders exercised options on 6,312 shares.
At Bank of Boston Corp., insiders exercised options on large chunks of stock at a time when the bank was rumored to be mulling selling the company to Fleet.
Chairman Ira Stepanian exercised an option for 41,106 shares at $15.08 each and now holds 232,507 shares.
In all, Bank of Boston insiders exercised options on 70,110 shares.
But not all insiders were bullish.
At CoreStates, Philadelphia, which is expected to release details of a cost-cutting plan within the month, insiders sold 85,250 shares in the last week of January.
However, chairman Terrence Larsen did buy 3,071 shares.
At First Empire State, insiders sold or disposed of 13,437 shares. In the last six months, seven insiders have bought, but five have sold at the Buffalo, N.Y., bank.
Equally bearish were executives at Union Bank San Francisco, where insiders sold 4,310 shares. In the last six months, only one insider has bought shares, and seven have sold stock.
At First American Corp., Nashville, insiders bought 13,417 shares in the last month and a half, and in the last six months, nine insiders have bought and none have sold stock.
Another bullish institution is Mark Twain Bancshares of St. Louis. Chairman Alvin Siteman told a New York investors conference in November that several large regional banks had contacted his bank about a possible acquisition.
In the last six months, 16 Mark Twain insiders have bought, and none have sold stock. And in the past month and a half insiders have bought or exercised options on 63,738 shares.
At Washington Mutual Inc. in Seattle, Wash., vice president William Longbrake exercised an option for 51,500 shares on February 24. In that month, insiders exercised options on 70,000 shares.