Equity analysts said Thursday that the recent flurry of merger activity among New York City banks may not be over, and they pegged Richmond County Financial Corp. as a possible target.
Mark Fitzgibbon, an analyst at Sandler ONeill & Partners in New York upgraded Richmond Countys stock on Thursday to outperform from market perform, just three weeks after downgrading the Staten Island-based bank on concern that its stock had become pricey. But after New York behemoth Citigroup Inc. announced its intention to buy European American Bank from the Dutch banking giant ABN Amro and North Fork Bancorp of Melville, N.Y., announced plans to buy Commercial Bank of New York, Mr. Fitzgibbon appears to feel Richmond County has new upside potential.
Richmond Countys stock price has risen 53.8% since July 19, and the shares are trading at 18.4-times earnings, a high multiple even for the celebrated thrift sector which has been pushed up by investors seeking refuge from bank stocks tarnished by credit-quality issues. Richmond was up 68.75 cents Thursday, or 2.56%, to $27.50.
The planned Citi deal should spark merger and acquisition activity in the metropolitan New York area, Mr. Fitzgibbon said. And acquirers are willing to pay premiums for well-managed companies with attractive deposits.
Indeed one of this weeks buyers, North Fork, could be a potential suitor for Richmond County, observed Mr. Fitzgibbon. FleetBoston Financial Corp., which is interested in getting in to the New York metropolitan area and reportedly eyed EAB could also be a buyer.
Roslyn Bancorp. is another potential acquirer whose name has been bandied about by analysts.
But John A. Kanas, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of North Fork, speaking at an analyst conference on Tuesday, the day he announced the Commercial deal, gave short shrift to rumors of further acquisitions. He said that, though overconsolidation had enabled his company to grow, he has no immediate plan for a deal, particularly not a thrift purchase. We look at a dozen thrifts a week, he said. Most of their market value does not make any sense.
Nevertheless, Richard D. Weiss, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, who listened to Mr. Kanas, said Thursday that he did not mean Richmond when he disparaged thrifts. Mr. Weiss speculated that the Staten Island company could well end up on North Forks radar screen.
Mr. Weiss has a buy recommendation on the stock and feels reluctant to downgrade it even as its price rises because the fundamentals are too good. A 20% market share in Staten Island, a strong 3.54% net interest margin, a good amount of excess capital, and a solid 60% of deposits from low-cost sources makes the company as interesting a target as it is a viable buyer, Mr. Weiss said.
New Jersey, which, according to Mr. Kanas, is ripe for consolidation, could offer Richmond County a number of opportunities, analysts agreed.