A day after being named the new chairman and chief executive officer of Union Planters Corp., Jackson W. Moore said a sale of the Memphis bank should not be discounted.
"The company is committed to doing what's best for shareholders over the long term," Mr. Moore said in an interview Tuesday. "Whether that means independence or nonindependence is going to be determined by the ongoing changes in the industry." The appointment of Mr. Moore, 51, was announced Monday night by the Union Planters board of directors. He succeeds Benjamin W. Rawlins Jr., who died at his home last week after having a heart attack. He was 62 and had been chief executive for 16 years.
Since the news of Mr. Rawlins' death, speculation has abounded that $34 billion-asset Union Planters is a takeover target, and Firstar Corp. has been the most frequently mentioned of the possible suitors. Analysts said the reason for that is the Milwaukee company recently expanded in Tennessee by purchasing 41 branches in the state from Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp.
A Firstar spokeswoman said the company does not comment on speculation.
Mr. Moore said a sale of his 131-year-old company deal is always possible, especially now that consolidation is picking up steam again.
"I can't think of anybody who can say anything other than that," he said of fellow bankers.
The new chairman did indicate that outsiders should not expect major strategic shifts in the immediate future. Mr. Rawlins was a well-regarded manager, credited with turning Union Planters around in the late 1980s and 1990s. Mr. Moore has been a close lieutenant for 12 years; he was promoted to his new post from president and chief operating officer.
He said the company would probably not pursue large bank deals, but might consider buying smaller banking companies to fill in certain markets. He also said it will evaluate its business lines and distribution network.
Analysts said the rumors of a sale will persist but that the structure of Union Planters, which sprawls out over rural markets outside its main territory of Tennessee, St. Louis, and Florida, may make a big merger difficult.
"The problem Union Planters poses is that they have a very diffused franchise," said John Balkind, an analyst with Fox-Pitt, Kelton Inc. "Outside Tennessee, St. Louis, and Florida, the question is, What other pieces of their market would you want? Any buyer would want to sell off pieces of the franchise."
Joseph Roberto, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., agreed. "While Union Planters delivers a lot of geography to a buyer, a lot of that is in rural markets," he said. "I just don't see that as being attractive to the larger banks, which are more focused on metro areas."
Christopher Kelley, an analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co. in Memphis, said Firstar would be the best geographical fit because it is established in St. Louis, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Related Content Online: