After a disappointing earnings report Wednesday, Allstate Corp. has become a prime takeover target for a large bank, some insurance analysts contend.
Several large banking companies might be interested in buying the Northbrook, Ill., property and casualty insurer, said Kenneth S. Zuckerberg, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
He listed Citigroup Inc., which already owns the property and casualty subsidiary Travelers Group; Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte, N.C.; Chase Manhattan Corp.; and Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco as possible buyers because they are all large enough. Citigroup also has "a good track record stripping costs out."
"Now that financial modernization laws have been passed, it makes sense that some banks and insurance companies would join together," Mr. Zuckerberg said.
Though most people foresee banks' buying life insurance companies rather than casualty and property insurers, Allstate has a strong brand name that a bank might be able to build on, Mr. Zuckerberg said.
"Allstate has one of the greatest brand names among consumers - superior to AIG and Chubb - and given its relationship to American households, a bank could use the powerful Allstate brand to cross-sell loans, credit cards, and other financial products to consumers," said Mr. Zuckerberg.
A banking company could also take advantage of Allstate's distribution system and its $2 billion of excess capital, Mr. Zuckerberg said.
What is most compelling about Allstate is its low valuation, which has helped fuel the takeover talk.
The company's share price dropped 9.66%, to $19.875, after it said that fourth-quarter operating earnings fell to $524 million, or 66 cents a share, from $641 million, or 78 cents a share a year earlier. An increase in property damage claims hurt earnings.
Also fueling takeover speculation was the departure after only eight months of Bruce W. Marlow, Allstate's president of independent agency markets and senior vice president, who left this week for a job at 21st Century Insurance Group of Woodland Hills, Calif.
"If the company's shares fall below $20, the prospect of it being taken over will be even higher because it will have fallen below its book value" of $21.50, Mr. Zuckerberg said.
Though several analysts said that Allstate would make an ideal takeover candidate, not everyone was convinced that a banking company would be a viable acquirer.
"I don't think banks are ready for the volatility that comes with underwriting," said Michael Lewis, an analyst at Warburg Dillon Read. The return on equity for many insurers is "lousy."
Allstate declined to comment. Citigroup, Chase, and Wells Fargo did not return phone calls. A spokesman for Bank of America said that "the company's appetite for an insurance underwriter is very low, if not nonexistent."
"The question is, could a bank go in and take out the expenses?" said Hugo Warns, an analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker in Baltimore. "We also have not seen banks take the plunge as far as acquiring insurers. We think they will buy risk managers and distribution brokers."