A major investor in Meta Financial Group has grown impatient with the company's sagging stock price and is urging the Storm Lake, Iowa, bank holding company to sell itself.

In a letter to Meta's board and management this week, Philadelphia Financial Management of San Francisco LLC said that it believes Meta's shares are undervalued, given the bank's decent earnings and strong capital position. Meta's shares have been trading in the mid-teens for much of the year and the Philadelphia Financial, which owns 6.7% of Meta's outstanding shares, contends that they would be worth over $50 to a prospective buyer.

Meta is one of the nation's leading prepaid debit card issuers, but its profits have suffered since the Office of Thrift Supervision ordered it to stop offering short-term cash advances late last year. Its first-quarter earnings fell by nearly 50% from the same period a year earlier, to $2.7 million, due largely to a drop in fee income.

But in its letter this week, Philadelphia Financial said Meta would still be attractive to buyers because of its low-cost deposit base, its relatively low ratio of nonperforming assets to total assets and its market position in the still-growing prepaid card business.

"The market has failed to acknowledge the true franchise value of Meta Financial," wrote Jordan Hymowitz, Philadelphia Financial's managing partner, in a letter dated June 21 and filed with the Securities and Exchanged Commission Friday. "We encourage management and the board of directors to pursue a sale of the company as the best strategic direction."

Meta's shares soared after the letter was made public Friday, rising 28% to close at $18.60.

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