Maryland Federal Bancorp's stock is drifting back to planet Earth after reaching a record high of $35 a share last week.

Analysts and a company official attributed the run-up to a flurry of acquisitions in the Washington-Baltimore market.

The stock has been "going nuts," said David Stumpf, banking analyst at Wheat First Butcher Singer, a Richmond, Va.-based brokerage.

Maryland Federal stock jumped to $34.13, from $28.25, during the week ended May 26, with 475,000 shares traded during the five days. The stock has since retreated to $30.75 as of Thursday afternoon.

"It opened this week with people saying, 'That's enough, I'm going to take some profits,' " Mr. Stumpf said, explaining the decline.

The rapid rise surprised Robert H. Halleck, Maryland Federal's president and chief executive, who noted that the stock usually trades about 1,000 shares a day.

"You begin to wonder if somebody is accumulating the stock," he said, "but when you find out it's Joe Six-Pack, then you know everything is fine."

"It'd be terrific if it was a latent reaction to the fact that this is the best company in the world," Mr. Halleck quipped.

Fueling the powerful rally were acquisitions announced in April by North Carolina's First Union Corp. and Richmond, Va.-based Crestar Financial Corp., analysts said.

Maryland Federal's shares jumped more than $2, to $26.13, the day after First Union agreed to buy Columbia First Bank of Arlington, Va. Three weeks later, on April 28, its stock hit $28.63 when Crestar announced a deal to buy Loyola Capital Corp. of Baltimore.

The Crestar deal left Maryland Federal, with its $1.5 billion of assets and 26 branches, as the state's second-largest independent thrift, behind Chevy Chase Bank.

"People look around and say, 'What's left?' " said John Bailey, a bank and thrift analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., a Rosslyn, Va.- based institutional brokerage/research firm. "The market is kind of saying everybody is going to get taken out in the next six months. It never happens like that. It is never smooth. It is never simple."

It's unclear whether selling out is in Maryland Federal's future. Analysts say remaining independent and competing against larger institutions is a tough proposition. And it will become more difficult to make money as spreads shrink.

"It is becoming more challenging for companies like this to succeed at pursuing an independent strategy," Mr. Stumpf said.

If an offer is made, Maryland Federal won't sniff at it.

Said Mr. Halleck, "The board of directors is certainly not averse if 'the Godfather' wants to make an offer."

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