Southeastern thrift stocks have rallied recently on speculation they would soon be acquired by superregional banks with few other avenues to expand.
In the latest instance, shares of FedFirst Bancshares Inc., Winston-Salem, N.C., jumped 18% in two days last week after the company said it would begin negotiations with an unidentified suitor.
FedFirst shares rose 75 cents to $28.75 in afternoon trading on Thursday after soaring $3.75 per share the previous day. Volume jumped as much as six times its normal level.
Earlier in the week, First Union Corp. announced it would pay $145 million for DFSoutheastern Inc., Decatur, Ga. And AmSouth Bancorp., Birmingham, Ala., said it would pay $104 million for the $1 billion-asset Chattanooga Financial Corp. in Tennessee.
But the expected focus of thrift acquisitions is Florida The state has more deposits and population growth than the other southeastern states combined and almost no commercial banks left to buy.
"The remaining healthy thrifts are the only realistic means of entry into most key Florida markets," said Samuel J. Beebe, a bank and thrift analyst in Tampa for Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. "The coming year could see several of them get engaged to marry."
Mr. Beebe noted the supply of unhealthy thrift institutions that might be attractive for banks in the Southeast as well as the Middle Atlantic region is now nearly exhausted.
List of Targets
The analyst has identified six Florida thrifts that meet fully phased-in capital requirements and because of their market location would be tempting acquisition targets for commercial banks. All trade near their highs. They are:
* Fortune Bancorp, Clearwater, with assets of $2.6 billion. It is the largest independent financial institution left on Florida's west coast. The Tampa Tribune reported last week that First Union and Sun Trust Banks, Atlanta, had conducted due diligence for a possible deal. Both banks declined to comment.
* First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Fort Meyers, with assets of $1 billion. It is one of the nation's healthiest thrifts, with a 1.41% return on assets during the first quarter.
* FloridaBank, Jacksonville, formerly American Federal Savings Bank of Duval County, with asset of $257.3 million. The stock traded Thursday at $9.50, just under its 52-week high.
* F&C Bancshares, Punta Gorda, formerly First Federal Savings Bank of Charlotte County, with asset of $421.1 million. It is also considered among the strongest thrifts, with a 0.80% return on assets for the first quarter.
* First Financial Bancorp, Perry, with assets of $179.2 million. Its shares were unchanged Thursday at $8.25.
* Mid-State Federal Savings Bank, Ocala, with assets of $795.2 million. The stock was unchanged at $16.50.
Analyst are uncertain about takeover prospects for another large and profitable Florida institution, CSF Holdings, Fort Lauderdale, parent of Citizens Federal Bank, with assets of $4.5 billion.
CSF has enhanced its already large south Florida franchise by acquiring offices of failed thrifts. Last year it acquired through the Resolution Trust Corp., the Hialeah branch of Ensign Federal Savings Bank, New York, and two branches of Commonwealth Federal Savings.