CHARLOTTE, N.C. - SunTrust Banks Inc. intensified its campaign to win the hearts of Wachovia Corp. shareholders on Wednesday, sending executives to meet with institutional investors and buying full-page newspaper advertisements in Wachovia's market territory to play up the offer.
L. Phillip Humann, SunTrust's chairman, chief executive, and president, was in New York Wednesday wooing institutional investors in a series of private meetings. SunTrust believes it has a shot at winning Wachovia, which has yet to put First Union's lower bid before shareholders.
The advertisements appeared in newspapers in Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Wachovia's hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., as well as in Columbia and Greenville, S.C. Headlined "An Open Letter" to each community, the ads argued that SunTrust's offer is financially superior and would be a better deal for the employees, customers, and communities where the bank operates.
The ads and sales pitches promoting the $14.7 billion unsolicited offer for Wachovia followed First Union Corp.'s insistence Tuesday that it stands by the merger agreement it signed April 15 with Wachovia. Under that deal, Wachovia shareholders would get 2 First Union shares for each Wachovia share.
On Monday, SunTrust pledged 1.08 shares for each Wachovia share, making its offer worth about 17% more than First Union's. But as the three companies' share prices fluctuate, the gap between the offers has narrowed. All three companies' shares rose Wednesday, though SunTrust's offer remains about 6% higher than First Union's.
A SunTrust spokesman said more advertisements were likely in the days ahead. Meanwhile, Mr. Humann was scheduled to head to Boston today for pitches to more institutional investors.
"We are looking to achieve visibility for the merits of this proposed combination," said Barry Koling, a SunTrust spokesman. He said SunTrust also was considering other unnamed "creative approaches" to "convey to the broad range of Wachovia constituencies and to create a positive reception for SunTrust."
But the big target is Wachovia's board. "We anticipate that the Wachovia board would act in the interests of shareholders. We are asking the Wachovia board to talk to us," Mr. Koling said.
Even as the Atlanta bank appeals to Wachovia's shareholders, it has yet to win the attention of Wachovia executives, whose only public statement so far have been to acknowledge receiving an offer and to promise that its board would look at it.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Wachovia executives had no plans to meet their SunTrust counterparts and no board meeting had been scheduled, though the group could convene as early as next week, according to those familiar with the situation.
Meanwhile, First Union is weighing its own options for selling its merger agreement to the Wachovia shareholders. "We're really committed to communication with shareholders, and clearly providing them with information that shows the First Union offer is superior," said Mary Eshet, a First Union spokeswoman. "But we haven't developed real detailed timetables about that."
She said it was not clear yet whether First Union would try to match SunTrust's print ads, but she said executives were continuing to pitch the First Union deal to institutional investors through meetings and phone calls.