Fleet Financial Group Inc. won the bidding for Shawmut National Corp., but it apparently has yet to convince Wall Street that the deal is good for investors.
Fleet was left out of the first-quarter bank stock rally, and its trading multiples are among the lowest of the top 50 banking companies.
Also, over the two months ended April 13, the short position in Fleet shares leaped 500%, to 12.8 million shares, as investors sold borrowed stock on the expectation of further price declines that would let them profit by covering the borrowings with cheaper shares.
Investor concerns revolve around the handsome 45% premium Fleet has promised Shawmut and uncertainties about the timing and extent of potential cost savings from the merger.
Arbitragers probably are exacerbating Fleet's trading troubles, experts say, by purchasing Shawmut shares and selling Fleet shares short.
While it's far too early to say whether Fleet is beset with a "winner's curse," the superregional clearly is stretching deal economics to the limit in the $3.7 billion Shawmut transaction.
"Employees and shareholders are being asked to pay a pretty big price," said Anthony Davis, a banking analyst at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.
Mr. Davis noted that Fleet's workers just finished a major cost-cutting campaign and now must tackle another one. And as for Fleet's annual earnings per share: "Maybe next year it can deliver the EPS I originally had forecast for this year."
To be sure, observers including Mr. Davis acknowledge that Fleet had some compelling reasons to go after Shawmut.
Had Fleet not acted aggressively, Shawmut might have become the vehicle by which any one of several muscular superregionals could have entered New England. And given the region's slow growth, efficiency pressures would have stayed severe anyway.
Fleet says the Shawmut integration ultimately will yield $400 million of annual cost savings, an amount equaling 14% of combined 1994 overhead expenses.
But analysts say it will be months before Fleet releases a concrete plan, and longer still before the plan bears fruit.
Against that backdrop of uncertainty, experts look at the $1.15 billion purchase premium and see no way the stock-swap deal can avoid being dilutive in the near term.
Livia Asher, a banking analyst with Merrill Lynch & Co., said Fleet's stock "probably won't do much" between now and the end of this year, when the Shawmut acquisition is expected to close.
In fact, Ms. Asher said, it may take a couple of quarters after that - meaning mid-1996 - before the merged entity gains enough steam to warrant a major trading move.
In the meantime, that leaves Fleet as a "value" play. Trading at roughly eight times trailing 12 months' earnings and 130% of book value, Fleet's shares are alluring to bottom-fishers.
"Fleet's shares are among the cheapest," said Smith Barney analyst Henry C. Dickson, who nevertheless has a "neutral" rating on the issue.
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Analysts sharply lowered 1995 earnings projections for Bankers Trust New York Corp. and Fourth Financial Corp., but raised estimates for Union Bank, San Francisco, and Golden West Financial Corp.
Bankers Trust's first-quarter loss of $157 million had been expected. But First Call Corp. reports that the mean of the annual earning projections for the New York trading specialist by the 19 analysts that cover the bank dropped by 9.92%, to $3.18 per share.
Fourth Financial, of Wichita, Kan., surprised analysts by reporting a 75.9% decline from the previous year in first-quarter earnings, to $4.5 million, attributable to previously undisclosed securities losses. The mean 1995 forecast among 10 analysts who cover Fourth Financial slipped 7.37%, to $2.64.
Union Bank's mean estimate jumped by 10.28%, to $4.40 per share, as the bank reported gains on sales of foreclosed real estate.
The mean estimate for Golden West jumped 5.78%, to $3.66 a share. The Oakland, Calif., thrift reported a decline in first-quarter earnings due to margin pressure but noted strong demand for its main product, adjustable- rate mortgages.