Whether they like it or not, Indiana's community bankers are being swept up in a wave of takeover speculation, following recent incursions by acquisitive superregionals.

Although Indiana bank and thrift stocks have traded with acquisition premiums for some time, stock prices of Hoosier financial institutions rose in the wake of recent acquisitions by Huntington Bancshares.

The Columbus, Ohio, banking company announced during the past two weeks that it would buy First Bancorp Indiana, a Lafayette thrift, and Railroad-men's Federal Savings and Loan, Indianapolis, for substantial premiums to book value.

Those were among the largest - and most lucrative - deals struck in the state since Norwest Corp. acquired Lincoln Financial Corp., Fort Wayne, last fall - raising speculation that more acquisitions might soon follow.

"There is still a lot of action to be had in Indiana," said Tom Maier, community bank analyst at Chicago Corp.

Stable Economic Base

Indiana has a relatively diversified manufacturing base, making it attractive to midwestern banking companies seeking stable. though low, economic growth.

"There are a number of typical midwestern towns in the state that are good to bank in," said Mr. Maier.

Of course, "there is a pretty independent streak to Indiana's community bankers," said S. Joe DeHaven, executive director of the Community Bankers Association of Indiana. In other words, many bankers may be reluctant to sell out. "But once you get above the $500 million-assets mark," he added, "then you become shareholder driven."

Prices Surge

With the recent mergers heating up speculation, the stock price of First Indiana Bancorp, a $1.3 billion-asset thrift in Indianapolis, shot up from $17.50 a share in mid-May to $21.50 Friday.

Shares of Union Federal Bancorp, a $500 million-asset Evansville thrift, surged from $19.75 to $21.75 Friday, and shares of $180 million-asset Central Indiana Bancorp, Kokomo, spiked from $19 to $26.50. McDonald & Co. has flagged Central Indiana as a likely acquisition candidate.

"There hasn't been this kind of activity in other midwestern markets in the last few weeks," said Chicago Corp. thrift analyst Rick Jacobus. "Most of the action has been in Indiana."

Bank stocks have done equally, well. The share price of one possible acquisition target, $1.9 billion-asset CNB Bancshares, Evansville, rose from about $29 in mid-May to $32.50 last week, its 52-week high.

In addition, some analysts have become openly bullish on Indiana stocks. Chicago Corp.'s Mr. Maier changed his rating of Fort Wayne National Corp. from "hold" to "buy" last Tuesday, sending shares of the $1.9 billion-asset banking company up $1.75.

Dan Coughlin, an analyst at Howe Barnes Investments, Chicago, rated shares of the $706 million-asset Irwin Financial Corp., Columbus, an "aggressive buy" in a report last week.

"Irwin would make a great acquisition - though management says it wants to remain independent," said Mr. Coughlin. The company's shares traded recently at $43, and Mr. Coughlin expects them to hit $60 this year.

More Candidates

Among the state's larger independent banks often cited as takeover candidates are Old National Bancorp, Evansville, with $3.6 billion of assets; 1st Source Corp., South Bend, $1.4 billion; and First Financial Corp., Terre Haute, $1.1 billion.

First Merchants Corp., Muncie, with $610 million of assets, and National City Bancshares, Evansville, with $476 million, are also mentioned as possible targets.

Midwest powerhouses scouting for acquisition opportunities in the Hoosier State include Huntington; Comerica Inc. and NBD Bancorp. of Detroit; Banc One, Columbus; and Society Corp. and National City Corp., Cleveland.

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