Bank Plus Corp. in Los Angeles is betting that a clean bill of health from regulators will help it finally find a buyer.
The $2.2 billion-asset parent of Fidelity Federal Bank announced Monday that the Office of Thrift Supervision has removed its problem association and troubled condition designations it slapped on the thrift company last fall after examining Fidelitys money-losing credit card operations, now discontinued.
Mark K. Mason, Bank Plus president and chief executive officer, said the lifting of the OTS order validates that the institution which has been on the block for more than two years has turned itself around.
Overall, the institution has cured its substantial prior problems, Mr. Mason said in an interview Monday. Because we resolved these issues on our own, a buyer doesnt have to solve them, and that makes the company more attractive.
Christopher R. Raffo, an analyst with Hoefer & Arnett in San Francisco, said Bank Plus may not have to wait long.
Last year Mark Mason said that managements intent was to clean the shop up, and so far everything that weve seen has confirmed that, Mr. Raffo said. Im confident that there will be end-buyers for this company.
The thrift, which hired the New York investment bank Sandler ONeill & Partners last November to help it find a buyer, can trace most of its troubles to its subprime credit card operations. Its two credit card portfolios lost more than $70 million in 1998 and 1999 and spawned about 160 lawsuits from consumers in the Southeast, who claimed that third-party sales representatives made misrepresentations about the credit cards.
But after nearly two years of losses, Bank Plus began to pick up in 2000 when it said it had found a buyer for its $78.4 million MMG Direct Inc. subprime credit card portfolio and its $77 million American Direct Credit Inc. portfolio (the sales closed in January and February). And in October it settled the lawsuits for about $4 million.
Having unloaded its credit card problems as well as eight branches Bank Plus posted profits in the last two quarters of 2000. Earnings in the last three months were $1.45 million, or 7 cents a share, against a loss of $8.85 million, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier.
Mr. Raffo said the thrifts business lines and its deposit base in the coveted Southern California market should be a good draw.
They have a large multifamily loan portfolio thats very stable, their cost of deposits is pretty favorable relative to the rest of their market, and theyve got a nice branch network in places like affluent Orange County, he said.
Mr. Raffo would not name companies that might be interested in acquiring Bank Plus, but said it would fetch between $5.50 and $6.50 a share. The stock, which traded as high as $16 in 1998 and fell below $1.50 in April 2000, was trading at $4.3125 midday Tuesday.