Looking to strengthen its currency for acquisitions, closely held BOK Financial Corp. of Tulsa, Okla., is considering a public stock offering.
BOK, which has $5.7 billion of assets, is nearly 80% owned by oilman George B. Kaiser. As a result, the company has had difficulty attracting merger partners, said BOK president and chief executive officer Stanley A. Lybarger.
Because BOK's shares are so thinly traded, some banks have spurned its advances, Mr. Lybarger explained. Prospective targets say they want more liquidity in any shares they accept for a buyout.
According to Mr. Lybarger, a public offering could come sometime this year. BOK officials said they want to be in a position to take advantage of a market in which many banks are considering selling.
"If we can get enough stock in public hands, we become more marketable," Mr. Lybarger said.
"Our stock trades historically below our peer group level," he said. "We have limited liquidity, and we've not had an active shareholder relations program."
The company is particularly interested in acquiring in Oklahoma or a neighboring state such as Colorado, Kansas, or Missouri-three markets in which it does not now compete.
BOK also has its eye on Texas, where it has $370 million of assets, Mr. Lybarger said.
To be sure, BOK has not ruled out cash acquisitions. This week it agreed to buy 17 New Mexico branches from BankAmerica Corp. for about $50 million. The deal gives BOK its first branches in that state.
"Our preference would be to do stock deals," said chief financial officer James A. White.
BOK paid cash for two small Dallas banks last year. In 1993 and 1994 it used stock to buy banks in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Mr. Kaiser has owned his majority stake since 1991 when he bought the failed BancOklahoma Corp. from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
One analyst said getting more shares out to the public would be a smart move.
"It's a good-quality company, and it has good size," said Eric Rothmann, an analyst at Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, Ark. "It has the potential to be a high flier."
BOK has also been trying to get more investment firms to sell its stock. Currently, 10 companies make a market in BOK's shares, up from just three Jan. 1. No analysts cover the stock, but Mr. White said he hopes some firms begin researching BOK.