Activist investor Seymour Holtzman lost long-odds battles Thursday to force the sale of two mutual holding companies.

Mr. Holtzman last week proposed that People's Mutual Holdings in Bridgeport, Conn., and Finger Lakes Financial Corp. in Geneva, N.Y., take the "necessary steps to sell or merge." He cited lackluster returns and disappointing stock performance.

But at their annual meetings, the shareholders overwhelmingly voted down Mr. Holtzman's proposals. The companies' managements, which opposed selling out, control most of the stock.

People's, the parent of People's Bank, is the largest independent banking company in Connecticut, with $10 billion of assets and 143 branches. Finger Lakes, the parent of Savings Bank of the Finger Lakes, has $285 million of assets and six branches.

Mr. Holtzman is well known in the industry for pressuring bank and thrift companies to sell. Through his investment vehicle, Jewelcor Management Inc. in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., he is currently pushing for the sales of at least six institutions, including $7 billion-asset Keystone Financial Inc. in Harrisburg, Pa.

Observers had said Mr. Holtzman stood little chance of garnering majorities among People's and Finger Lakes' shareholders.

Mutual holding companies typically own more than 50% of their own stock- People's, for example, owns about 57.5%-and management controls the voting rights of those shares.

"There is no conceivable way to force a mutual holding company to sell," said Laurie Hunsicker, a thrift analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va.

Mr. Holtzman acknowledged as much in an interview this week. But he said he hopes his efforts will make mutual holding companies more responsive to shareholders.

"This is just the first step," he said. "If enough people vote for my proposal, it will send a strong message to management."

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