Flush with cash after recent public offerings, thrift institutions in the New York metropolitan area are paying once-unthinkable prices for acquisitions.

Roslyn (N.Y.) Bancorp set a new standard Tuesday by announcing it would pay $1.1 billion-or a 47% premium over market price, 29 times estimated earnings, and 3.9 times book value-for T R Financial Corp., a thrift based in Garden City, N.Y. One analyst called T R "good but nothing special."

The price for T R Financial, which has $4 billion of assets, recalls the lofty 4.8 times book value that North Fork Bancorp. agreed to pay last October for New York Bancorp, a thrift.

Initial investor reaction was negative. The market bid up the shares of T R Financial only $5, to $43.625. That suggests investors think the company is not worth the $56.6313 per share that Roslyn has offered. (See related story on page 28.)

Roslyn chief executive Joseph L. Mancino defended his proposed deal, which would be the first by his company since it went public last year. Acquiring T R would add 9% to earnings next year and expand his suburban thrift's reach into the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, he said.

He also said that he would cut the combined company's operating costs by 43% without closing any branches. T R Financial's CEO, John M. Tsimbinos, is to join Roslyn's board and be chairman.

Mr. Mancino said the price he agreed to pay is simply a sign of the times.

"This is basically what's going on in the market," he said in a telephone interview. "Companies come forward and say, 'If you want me, here I am, and here's the price.'"

That a company like T R Financial, whose prime businesses are making home mortgage loans and offering certificates of deposit, could sell for a 47% premium speaks to the dwindling number of desirable banks and thrifts these days, investment bankers said.

But it also demonstrates that bankers keen on expanding their businesses are undeterred by stratospheric prices because they are loaded with money to spend.

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analyst David Winton said Roslyn management's goals of cutting T R Financial's expenses by more than 40% and making the merger add 9% to earnings next year "strike me as a little ambitious." But the high price of the acquisition is unlikely to hurt Roslyn on its own, he said.

Roslyn has literally been sitting on a pile of money since its initial public offering in January 1997. That IPO left Roslyn with a capital ratio of 17.5% at March 31, far more than regulators require to assure a financial institution's soundness. The investment community has urged Roslyn to spend its money on a merger rather than let it just lie fallow. "It's hard to get rid of it any other way," Mr. Winton observed.

Several other New York-area thrifts that have taken themselves public recently face the same dilemma, including Staten Island Bancorp, which went public in December and whose capital ratio is a whopping 25.9%.

Larger thrifts with more established stocks are also facing a problem of overfilled capital coffers. Greenpoint Financial Corp., for example, reported a first-quarter capital ratio of 9.7%, and Queens County Bancorp's was 10.6%. These two companies are said to have made offers for T R Financial, which was advised by Goldman, Sachs & Co. Sandler O'Neill & Partners advised Roslyn.

All the excess cash at these thrifts is likely to trigger even more mergers, investment bankers said, somewhat gleefully, and drive prices even higher for the ever-dwindling number of targets.

Indeed, Mr. Mancino said that investors may not have heard the last from Roslyn.

Acquiring T R Financial would bring Roslyn's capital ratio to 11.2%, Mr. Mancino said, "so we'll still have a little room to maybe do some more deals."

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