Shares of Marshall & Ilsley Corp., the highly regarded mid-western banking company, hit a 52-week high Friday.
The company has traded on takeover speculation in the past, but it wasn't clear what was driving the stock Friday.
The stock closed Friday at $62.75 a share, up $1, on unusually heavy volume of 165,400 shares. That's far above the average daily trading volume.
Up and Down
Earlier in the day, the stock price ran up as high as $64.50 before settling back.
Michael Hatfield, M&I's corporate secretary, said he knew of no reason for the activity, and reiterated management's desire to remain independent.
The company's chief financial officer, Gordon Gunnlaugsson, met with stock analysts and the major debt-rating agencies late last week, but the sessions were described as routine quarterly get-togethers.
The left analysts also at a loss to explain Friday's price movement, but they took the opportunity to tout Milwaukee-based Marshall & Ilsley, which has $7.6 billion in assets and is prized both for its core banking franchise and its data-processing business.
"This is a company I believe in, it's a management I believe in," said Salomon Brothers Inc. analyst Richard Strauss. "This is one of our top picks."
Limited Field of Buyers
Mr. Strauss said the stock deserves to trade at $70 to $75 a share, or as much as 13.3 times his 1993 earnings estimate of $5.65.
M&I, which has a market capitalization of about $1.4 billion, would not come cheap. There are not many eligible banks that could afford the company, analysts said.
For now, the field of potential domestic buyers is limited to banks in the seven nearby states that have interstate banking agreements with Wisconsin.
Those states are: Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
Norwest Corp. and Banc One Corp. are both considered capable of buying M&I. Banc One, though, already has its plate full when it comes to acquisitions, analysts noted.
In May, rumors that Harris Bancorp, the Chicago-based unit of Bank of Montreal, was mulling a bid sent M&I's stock price soaring $3 in one day.
But Bank of Montreal seemed to take itself out of contentions as a possible buyer in June, when its chairman complained that midwestern banks were too pricey.
Bank stocks were mixed in Friday trading amid a decline in the broader market.
After spending much of the day in positive territory, the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 3332.18, down 8.38 points.
Among the gainers, J.P. Morgan & Co. closed at $60.75, up 62.5 cents.
Brown Brothers Harriman analyst Raphael Soifer said Morgan may have moved up in sympathy with the bond market.
Morgan has a big bond portfolio, and is also used by some stock investors as a proxy for the bond market, Mr. Soifer noted.
Wells Fargo & Co. gained $1, to close at $68.125.
Chemical Banking Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., and Citicorp all closed fractionally lower.