Wells Fargo & Co. shares fell with a thud Monday as merger speculators lost patience.
Wells shares suffered the third-biggest decline among those traded on the New York Stock Exchange, dropping $5.5625, to $374.25.
The only shares to fall further were two extremely high-priced classes of stock in Berkshire Hathaway, an investment vehicle controlled by financier Warren Buffett that is a major shareholder in Wells. Berkshires A shares fell $20, to $7,380, and its B shares dropped $9, to $2,472.
Wells was the latest in a series of takeover prospects whose shares have adjusted sharply when a buyout failed to materialize after weeks of price run-up. Wells Fargo shares opened down nearly $5, as other bank stocks rose on confidence that the Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates when it meets today.
The San Francisco banking company's shares fell further in the early afternoon, as broad markets dipped on news of a government antitrust suit against Microsoft.
The Standard & Poor's bank index ended the day down 0.32% and the Dow Jones industrial average dipped 0.50%. The Nasdaq bank index shed 0.54% and the S&P 500 was off 0.26%.
Investors can expect the market for bank shares to remain "choppy," as investors buy and sell on various economic data in coming days, said David Winton, banking analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
Mr. Winton also remains in the considerably large camp that is keeping its eye on Wells. It remains "a very real possibility," that the company will be bought, he said.
But right now, share prices are a bit too rich to continue bidding up on that assumption. Wells could fetch $400 to $420 in a buyout, "suggesting that upside is rather limited from here," Mr. Winton said.
Some factors suggest the purchase will not be as immediate as the market first believed.
U.S. Bancorp, said to be one of the more likely purchasers, has seen its shares fall 10% in recent weeks, "effectively reducing buying power," Mr. Winton said.
Also, Wells Fargo's management is indicating that operations are on the upswing, with top line revenue growth off 6% annually and minimal expense growth.
"Wells may rightly decide to go it alone for now," focusing on improving its stand-alone value, Mr. Winton said.
Fleet Financial Group, another often-talked-about takeover target, is also getting a fresh look as a stand-alone enterprise.
"On a near and intermediate basis, Fleet is in control of its own destiny and can remain independent if it so desires," said Michael Plodwick, banking analyst at Lehman Brothers.
He sees strength coming from improved and consistent operations. The Boston banking company "is poised for an extended period" of profit improvement, with earnings per share increasing 10% to 12% annually, Mr. Plodwick said.
The improved financial performance has not been fully factored into Fleet's share price, he said. Fleet shares closed at $81.50, down $1.875.
Mr. Plodwick sees the stock reaching $100 within a year. That price is 3.25 times projected yearend book value, which would put Fleet's valuation in synch with other superregional banking companies.