Even as it pursues its $1.9 billion hostile bid to take over Dime Bancorp, North Fork Bancorp is keeping busy on the acquisition front.
John Adam Kanas, chairman and chief executive officer of $15 billion-asset North Fork, said he is mulling whether to bid on smaller local rivals, including $3 billion-asset Haven Bancorp in Waterbury, N.Y. Mr. Kanas said he has received a copy of materials - known to deal-makers as the "book" - that Haven's investment banker has been circulating to potential buyers.
Thus, Mr. Kanas is putting to rest any idea that he would take a breather after succeeding in breaking up Dime's merger with Hudson United Bancorp. "Dime is not the beginning or the end of life for us," he said in an interview Thursday.
Haven said in March that it had retained Lehman Brothers to help it explore "strategic alternatives." Haven chairman and CEO Philip S. Messina declined to comment Thursday on whether Lehman was distributing a book and on whether the company is up for sale.
Of course, Mr. Kanas claims to be constantly looking for ways to build Melville, N.Y.-based North Fork in its home state. Last August he struck two deals: one to buy JSB Financial Inc. of Lynbrook for about $570 million and another to buy Reliance Bancorp in Garden City for $352 million.
Investment bankers said two trends increasingly weigh in favor of more merger and acquisition activity in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area. For one, buyers have a growing "sense of urgency" to announce transactions before yearend, when stricter accounting rules will be introduced, said John Carusone, president of Bank Analysis Center in Hartford, Conn. For another, sellers' price expectations have been lowered since the heady days of 1998.
"Deals are no longer coming at penthouse prices," Mr. Carusone said.
"There are some really great buys out there," said Laurie Hunsicker, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. "Once we get past the Fed rate hikes, we should see [deals] pick up."
Analysts estimate that Haven, which is the parent company of CFS Bank, could fetch a price of between $20 and $25 a share, or $180 million to $225 million. Shares in the company fell 12.5 cents Thursday, to close at $16. Still, observers said there may be some challenges to finding a buyer for the company.
Haven operates 62 supermarket branches and eight traditional offices. The supermarket branches are less desirable, analysts say, because they have been a drag on the company's earnings. Some observers say one option could be to split up the sale of the supermarket branches to different bidders. "I don't think there's an entity in the market that would buy the entire thing," said James Ackor, an analyst at Tucker Anthony Cleary Gull.
In a highly publicized affair, Dime's merger with Hudson United of Mahwah, N.J., was canceled last month. Hudson United is said to be seeking another buyer, while Dime has said it would continue to explore all options.