After a bruising two weeks in which it fell 22%, the stock of SunTrust Banks Inc. has started to show signs of recovery.
SunTrust stock closed up 68.75 cents, at $73, on Friday, a day when investors continued to shed most stocks. The Standard & Poor's bank index fell 0.78%, and the Dow Jones industrial average closed with a loss of nearly 144 points, or 1.6%, after a late-afternoon selloff.
The recovery suggests a new constituency is buying shares. Many longtime SunTrust shareholders held the stock because they believed the company offered a safe haven from the dangers that accompany entering into big mergers.
The announcement that SunTrust planned to buy Crestar Financial Corp. ended that phenomenon and triggered the decline from a peak of $87 on July 20 to $71 last Wednesday.
Now it is arbitragers-short-term investors who take advantage of opportunities such as a dip in share price-who appear to be buying shares.
The bank's top executives traveled to New York late last week for the second time in less than two weeks to sell their Crestar deal to the investor community. But those who met with the executives reported hearing little the company had not said before.
The SunTrust crew "indicated they're a little further along with their transition team, but otherwise there was nothing new," said R. Harold Schroeder, analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, who nonetheless said he recommends the stock.
Arbitragers said SunTrust has fallen low enough to be worth buying again. "If you don't like the stock, you're out of it by now. If you like it, if you like the bank's story and don't think management is a bunch of dopes, then you reload the boat," said one.
Also, shares of PaineWebber Group Inc. rose 6.7% on rumors the investment bank may be sold to Dresdner Bank AG, the big German banking company. PaineWebber, which boasts one of the nation's largest networks of retail brokers, has often been the subject of takeover speculation. On Feb. 27, in a rally fueled by takeover talk, its shares soared 17% in the last few minutes of trading.
Shares of Bank Plus Corp., a $4.2 billion-asset thrift company based in Los Angeles, rose 8.1% after LaSalle Financial Partners LP, Kalamazoo, Mich., disclosed that it had acquired a 7.3% stake and would push management to sell. Bank Plus, parent of Fidelity Federal Bank, reported a second-quarter loss Friday of 6 cents per share, compared to a gain of 18 cents a year earlier.
The company said it suffered a $4 million loss in its portfolio of mortgage-backed securities because its hedging program "failed to meet the limits prescribed by the Securities and Exchange Commission for high correlation." Bank Plus said it had expected to announce a "significant acquisition" with its earnings report, but said it was "uncertain when, or if, this transaction will take place."
Hibernia Corp., New Orleans, rose 25 cents, to $18.875, one day after announcing yet deal to acquire a Louisiana community bank. The company said it would spend $78 million in stock and cash for $244 million-asset First Guaranty Bank in Hammond.
But shares of Wilmington Trust Corp. fell 68.75 cents, to $59.3125, despite a new "strong buy" rating from Ryan, Beck & Co.