What is GreenPoint Financial Corp. going to do with all its excess capital?
Wall Street is eagerly awaiting clues, but no fresh ones were offered last week by Thomas S. Johnson, GreenPoint's chairman and chief executive officer.
At the big New York thrift institution's first annual shareholders meeting last Friday, he said GreenPoint continues to look for "appropriate opportunities" to "strengthen the company's basic business" through acquisitions.
"But above all, we are committed to maintaining prudent control over the way we grow," Mr. Johnson stressed.
Since its initial public offering in January 1994, GreenPoint has been among the nation's most heavily capitalized thrifts. Indeed, with an equity-to-asset ratio of 22%, analysts view it as significantly overcapitalized.
All the extra capital is significantly depressing the company's return on equity. GreenPoint's 7.86% return last year was less than half the 16.73% median for the thrift industry and far below the 14.44% median return for the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.
One way the company is dealing with its overabundance of capital is by sending some of the excess back to shareholders via a stock repurchase program now underway.
But the 5% buyback effort "will hardly put a dent" in GreenPoint's capital surfeit, according to analyst Bruce W. Harting of Salomon Brothers Inc., New York, who has a "buy" recommendation on the stock.
Announcing the buyback plan in March, Mr. Johnson called it an excellent means of increasing shareholder value, but others have sensed a tone of unwillingness.
"It seems they are reluctantly doing this buyback, that management does feel this is not an efficient use of capital," said analyst Gary Ford of H.C. Wainwright & Co., Boston.
"In my opinion," he said, "it is the best use of capital when you are that overcapitalized, unless you have some great investment opportunities, and I think it is becoming obvious that they don't."
When GreenPoint converted to public-company status after 125 years as a mutual institution, the prevailing opinion on Wall Street was that it would become a big acquirer in the New York metropolitan region and perhaps beyond.
It was the most tumultuous stock conversion ever by a thrift, with GreenPoint first fending off an acquisition bid by Republic New York Corp. and then being ordered by the state banking regulator to cancel insider stock purchases by its top officers and directors.
Well over a year later, the company's expansion efforts have been largely limited to opening a loan origination office in New Jersey and to acquiring Barclays American Mortgage Corp. for $7 million.
The moves, while strategically important, are "inconsequential" for a $7 billion-asset institution, Mr. Ford said. "People are starting to get a bit impatient. They are tired of not hearing about any game plan."
The Wainwright analyst has an "accumulate" rating on the stock. In Monday's market, GreenPoint shares were off 25 cents, to $24, but are up 60% from their $15 initial public offering price.
Mr. Johnson, who had been president of Chemical Banking Corp. and Manufacturers Hanover Corp. before joining GreenPoint, declined an invitation to be interviewed last week, citing the annual meeting and other pressing matters.
Speaking to shareholders Friday, he stressed that the Barclays acquisition "accelerates our growth" and "by no means represents the end of the road" for the company's expansion activities.
He stressed that the deal permits the company to grow while "staying tightly focused on our specialized lending niche."
Mr. Johnson said he believes Barclays is "the only national mortgage banking company with experience in limit documentation loans very much like our own low-doc/no-doc lending."
The GreenPoint chairman cited "the progress we made during our first year as a public company," including a 17% gain in net income in 1994 "despite sharp increases in interest rates throughout the year."
The company's strength "will fortify our position as we move into a stage of strategic growth," Mr. Johnson said. But he offered no specifics, saying only that GreenPoint intends to pursue its goals "aggressively and carefully."