Just days before its showdown proxy battle with a large investor, People's Bancshares Inc. of New Bedford, Mass., has won endorsements from two independent proxy advisory firms.

Institutional Shareholder Services and Proxy Monitor have issued reports recommending that shareholders support management's slate of directors and reject a proposal by the Kingston Group of New York, which seeks to push People's to explore strategic alternatives, including a sale.

The $1.1 billion-asset parent of People's Savings Bank has been battling the investment group, which owns 9.2% of the thrift company's stock and seeks three seats on the 10-member board.

In a statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, ISS concluded there was "little reason to support the dissident campaign" and cited People's strong performance in comparison with its peers - as well as an unfavorable selling climate - as reasons to follow management's current course.

Proxy Monitor also concluded that the "best interests of the shareholders are served" by electing People's nominees to the board, not those of the Kingston Group. It said People's earnings-per-share growth was satisfactory and called its returns on equity "impressive."

Shareholders are expected to vote at the annual meeting June 16.

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