New York - Takeover fever has struck UJB Financial Corp.
The New Jersey company's shares gyrated again Thursday in heavy trading amid speculation that it will be the next bank snapped up in the nation's hottest merger market.
After rising $2.50 on Wednesday, the stock ran up another $2.25 on Thursday before falling back later in the day. At 4:30 p.m., UJB was down 12.5 cents, at $31.625. Volume, at 976,200 shares, was about five times average.
Analysts said the activity was tied to speculation that another banking company had taken an equity stake in UJB, presaging an acquisition agreement.
If such an investment occured by June 30, it would have to be disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Monday, 45 days after the quarter's close.
A spokesman for Princetonbased UJB, which has $13.8 billion of assets, said Thursday he could not comment on the possibility of an SEC filing, on merger rumors, or on the recent movement in the bank's stock.
Bank of New York Mum
Speculation about a buyer has centered on Bank of New York Co., which on Wednesday closed its $560 million acquisition of another New Jersey institution. National Community Banks of West Paterson. A spokesman for Bank of New York had no comment.
"Bank of New York could probably pay a [share] price in the low 40s for UJB and take only 2% dilution [in earnings per share] in the first year," said Anthony M. Polini, a banking analyst at Mabon Securities Corp.
"That would not be a huge price to pay," he said, noting that such an in-market merger could result in enormous cost savings. It would also provide Bank of New York with a huge market share in the affluent suburbs of Bergen County adjacent to New York City.
A Surefire Option
Many other banks have been considered possible UJB suitors. "You have 11 of the largest 25 banks in the country headquartered within 200 miles of Princeton," noted Anthony Davis, a bank analyst at Dean Witter, Discover & Co.
Acquisitions present one of the few surefire options banks have for increasing revenues.
"We are still not seeing enough loan growth to compensate for the [net interest] margin pressure banks are feeling, particularly if interest rates fall further," said Mr. Davis.
|Looking for Other Means'
"So superregional banks are out looking for other means to grow their earning assets,and acquisitions are an obvious option," he said. And New Jersey currently is the prime area of consideration.
Besides the New York City banks, the list od possible suitors includes CoreStates Financial Corp., Philadelphia; PNC Bank Corp., Pittsburgh; Fleet Financial Group, Providence, R.I., and New Jersey's largest bank, First Fidelity Bancorp., Lawrenceville.
CoreStates recently enlivened New Jersey banking stocks by announcing it would buy Elizabeth-based Constellation Bancorp. for $312 million, a price exceeding 2.5 times that bank's tangible book value per share.
|The Hottest Spot'
Earlier, Bank of New York's deal for National Community had set the pace with a price exceeding twice book value.
"New Jersey is by far the hottest spot on the map for bank consolidation right now," said Mr. Davis.
T. Joseph Semrod, UJB's chairman, president, and chief executive, has affirmed the bank's desire to remain independent. He is currently leading a study of the bank's business lines and may unveil a revised strategy for the future in September.