Tiny National Penn Bancshares bungee-jumping performance in the stock market took another pause on Tuesday after plunging to a 52-week low last week.
The Boyertown, Pa.-based bank closed unchanged at $31.50 after its stock stood still on Monday. That came after National Penn plUmmeted on Friday to a low of $31.50, losing about 8.7% of its value from the previous day.
Analysts conversely blame everything from nonspecific takeover speculation to a lull in Pennsylvania stocks to profit taking by investors nervous over the company's hyper-valuation. (Even at a low, National Penn was trading at an extraordinary 253% of book value.)
The fact that the $1 billion-asset supercommunity bank's stock repeatedly has been mentioned by analysts as overvalued doesn't help either.
"A couple of times in August the bank was mentioned by analysts as being overvalued," said Gary Rhoads, the bank's senior vice president. "The stock price dropped immediately after that."
National Penn's current P/E ratio stands at about 19, which analysts believe could be a disadvantage. With a multiple that high, they said, the company will have to work at keeping its earnings up to justify the price.
However, that doesn't seem to be a problem. National Penn's earnings are up 8% to 10% from 1993. At the end of the second quarter, the company reported net income of $3.4 million.
"Nothing has changed as far as our operations are concerned," said Mr. Rhoads, pointing out that for the first half of the year the ROE was 17.3% and the ROA 1.53%. "But if you look at our P/E, we're still in the high range. I think it's at a level that we can sustain now."
David MacAllaster, president of the New York investment firm MacAllaster Pitfield Mackay agreed.
"Them's nothing fundamentally wrong with the bank," he said. "It's just that they were at such a high valuation to begin with. The stock price is just drifting lower."
He also noted that takeover speculation is not driving the fluctuation in National Penn's stock price. "Very few banks can afford to pay the premium [that would be needed to] take over the bank," said Mr. MacAllaster.
Indeed the sky-high stock price may be a vaccine for independence.
James Benson, head of equity research at Ryan, Beck & Co. said National Penn is in an enviable position because of its high valuation and its improving earnings.
"One of the best defenses against being bought out is a higher stock price," he said. "But they are in a good position if they want to make an acquisition because of the high price."
Mr. Benson speculated that National Penn's stock may have fallen with other banks in the region, rather than because of anything management has done.
"Most of the midsize Pennsylvania banks [stocks] are down over the past 12 months," he noted. "Some are down by double-digit amounts. At this time last year there was a lot of takeover speculation" in Pennsylvania banks.
Although the takeover speculation has died down, it could return soon.
"It's probably just a lull,"Mr. Benson said of National Penn's stock. "I think their stock is probably just moving with the group."
In related news, Community First Bankshares rose 50 cents on Tuesday, to $15.50, after Chicago Corp. initiated coverage with a "buy" recommendation.
Some analysts have said the price was depressed because venture capitalists have recently sold off their stakes in the fast-growing company.
The brokerage said the Fargo, N.D.-based company is undervalued and projected that earnings should grow 15% over the next two years.
It feels that the company's string of healthy community banks make it a long-term takeover candidate.