Reports that regulators may scuttle Bank of Boston Corp.'s purchase of two New England financial companies because of credit quality concerns bruised the shares of one company and puzzled investors on Monday.
The Federal Reserve Board would not comment on reports -- first appearing in the Boston Globe on Saturday -- that the regulator might deny Bank of Boston's plan to buy Multibank Financial Corp. of Dedham, Mass., and Society for Savings Bancorp in Hartford, Conn.
A Fed spokesman said no decisions on the purchases were made at a closed meeting on Monday. He added that another meeting on the issue -- the third such discussion -- was planned for Wednesday.
Multibank's Shares Plummet
Officials at Multibank, Society for Savings, and Bank of Boston said they were hopeful that the deals would ultimately be approved. But the market indicated that at least the Multibank transaction could die.
Stock in the bank company plummeted $4.75, or almost 20%, to $19.50 a share in midafternoon trading Monday.
Society for Saving's shares were off 50 cents to $16.375 and Bank of Boston was trimmed by 37.5 cents to $21.875 a share.
When Bank of Boston announced its purchase plans late last summer, investors interpreted them as a sign of a true recovery for the company and the New England region as well.
Since banks usually consult with regulators before announcing major deals, most analysts felt Bank of Boston must have received signals that its capital levels were strong enough to absorb the two institutions.
Approval Was Expected This Month
Several analysts contacted Monday said the Fed's apparent caution did not affect their views on Bank of Boston's strength.
"It doesn't change my outlook, even if they are turned down," said Dennis Shea, an analyst at Morgan Stanley & Co.
However, he and others said the developments left them puzzled.
Most analysts expected the deals to be approved this month, adding that it is rate for regulators to hold up a deal so late in the process.
Also, Bank of Boston -- despite operating under a supervisory agreement with the Fed -- has strengthened in recent years, as have the two companies it hopes to acquire.
Society for Savings, a thrift with $2.4 billion in assets, earned $6 million in the first quarter of 1993 compared to $1.3 million in the same period a year earlier.
Its nonperforming assets fell by $32 million to $82 million during the quarter, representing 3.4% of total assets.
Multibank, which also has $2.4 billion in assets, has not recovered as dramatically. But it nevertheless earned $5.7 million in the first quarter, and posted a slight decline in nonperformers to $135.3 million, or 5.6% of total assets.
The market activity indicated a belief by traders that the Fed might compromise and permit the Society transaction to proceed while delaying or even killing the Multibank deal.
Bank of Boston, which has put together one of the more dramatic recoveries in the nation, reported $600 million of nonperforming assets on March 31, down from nearly $2 billion in the middle of 1991.
However, its first-quarter profit dipped to $67 million this year from $74 million earned in the first three months of 1992.