Acquisition speculation appears to be pushing up the price of Trust Company New Jersey, a 50-branch retail bank headquartered in Jersey City.

Shares of the $2.5 billion-asset company have risen 33.3% since Feb. 14, when bank stocks generally started to cool off.

The shares, which one analyst estimates could be worth $24 in a merger with any of the big banks vying for a share of the customer base in affluent northern New Jersey, were trading at $19.125 early Wednesday.

The bank has stated it would be receptive to a merger, but insists no deal is in the works.

But Casey Alexander of Gilford & Co., New York, who initiated coverage of the stock with an "attractive" rating in November, said a technology upgrade has made the bank even more attractive as a merger target.

"The bank has better earnings growth than any other bank in New Jersey," he said, noting that the improved management information system now enables it to cross-sell financial products to its retail customer base.

The bank's chief executive officer, Siggi B. Wilzig, said the strategy puts the bank in a good position with or without a merger. "On one level it's good to continue the way we are, and that also makes us somewhat more attractive to a possible acquirer."

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