Riggs National Corp. is trading near a 52-week high on takeover rumors that analysts say are sure to disappoint speculators.
The $4.8 billionasset bank is still recovering from problem loans and struggling to remake itself amid unprecedented competition in its Washington, D.C., market. The rally in Riggs stock comes just three months after respected, banker PaUl Homan abruptly resigned as CEO. Mr. Homan had been hired to turn the company around.
The market deflated Riggs' price after Mr. Homan's May departure signaled that chairman Joe L. Allbritton would not sell the bank. Mr. Allbritton controls one-third of Riggs' stock.
"It's trading purely on takeover speculation and I'm not sure what's causing it," said Dents Laplante, banking analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton. "It's certainly trading ahead of itself on fundamentals:"
In recent days, speculation has pushed Riggs price as high as 190% of book value to a yearly high of $11 a share. Even though no would-be suitors have emerged, analysts admit that Riggs' 62-branch system could be attractive to superregionals such as First Union Corp. and NationsBank Corp., which are expanding in the D.C. area,
On Tuesday, the stock closed down 12.5 cents at $10.75.
"There are a lot of people saying it's a takeover story," said Michael Coiro, a banking analyst at Johnston, Lemon & Co. in Washington D.C. "Some people are saying its a $20 buyout. That's more than three times tangible book, but I'm not subscribing to that."
A Riggs official declined to comment on what he labeled rumors. However, spokesman Jim Day added: "Mr. Allbritton has said publicly several times we are not for sale."
Thomas J. Romano, banking analyst at McConnell, Budd & Downs, noted, "I'm unaware of anything that would have changed Mr. Allbritton's position."
Indeed, many analysts have been cool to Riggs since the May 6 resignation of Mr. Homan. A respected former regulator, Mr. Homan brought to Riggs a history of turning around banks and selling them at a premium.
His presence was credited with helping Riggs regain its footing with impatient regulators, while leading a recapitalization and bringing a new sense of focus to the bank.
"The management team Was certainly weakened by his departure, although they still have his game plan," said Mr. Laplante. "It would seem to me that if there was any move inside the bank to sell it, Paul Homan would have stuck around."
Regardless of whether Riggs is sold, shareholders should certainly feel the impact of Mr. Homan's Work. The benefits of a cost-cutting program are now beginning to materialize, with savings expected to total $30 million this year. Also, problem assets have been written down to a level where few surprises are likely.
It was just last fall that Riggs garnered its first buy recommendation in years. Today, however, analysts are cautiously optimistic.
"The process of turning the bank around is started, but it's not finished," said Mr. Coiro. "I think they can still earn a decent return."
Not everyone feels that way. At Interstate/Johnson Lane, analysts switched a buy recommendation to sell after Mr. Homan left. They have also drastically lowered earnings estimates.
In 1995, for instance, the firm had projected earnings of 95 cents a share, but has recently adjusted that to 70 cents a share. The projected fall-off is even more severe the following year, dropping to 90 cents from $1.30,
"We just felt the direction of the bank has changed," said Christopher Marinac, an analyst with Interstate/Johnson Lane in Atlanta. "With Paul Homan gone, we are not as confident in the momentum for earnings."