A Boston investor group gobbled up a large stake in a newly converted New York thrift company this month, continuing its nationwide thrift stock buying spree.

Bay Pond Partners LP, owned by institutional investor Wellington Management Co., acquired a 6.74% stake in Afsala Bancorp, which owns $150 million-asset Amsterdam (N.Y.) Federal Bank. Bay Pond paid $11.50 per share for its stake Oct. 1, according to SNL Securities.

"I don't think that's inconsistent with the type of transactions" Bay Pond has been doing, said John M. Lisicki, Afsala's president and chief executive officer. "That's part of their business philosophy."

The purchase of 98,000 Afsala shares was the group's latest investment in a recently converted mutual thrift. In September, Bay Pond told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had recently bought stakes of up to 17.3% in at least 10 publicly traded thrifts from New Jersey to California, according to a report on its holdings by CDA/Spectrum.

A spokesman for Wellington Management declined to comment on Bay Pond's investments. Lisa Finkel said the private company does not discuss its stock positions with the media.

But a source who handled conversions to stock ownership for two mutual thrifts in which Bay Pond bought stakes said the investment group is searching for thrifts that are trading below book value and could become takeover targets.

For example, Afsala is currently trading at about $11 a share, roughly 81% of its book value, said Michael Seiler, senior vice president of Capital Resources Group Inc., a Washington, D.C., firm that specializes in stock conversions for mutual thrifts.

"The selection of thrifts is not region-specific," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I think in most cases, they've looked at a region and said, 'Which is the strongest bank in the region?'"

Bay Pond's investments this year include a 7.7% stake in New Jersey's First Bergen Bancorp; an 8.9% interest in Mississippi View Holding Co., Little Falls, Minn.; and 17.3% of Highland Federal Bank, Los Angeles.

The investors group has had a large pool from which to draw since conversions of mutual thrifts to stock form have been frequent in the thrift industry in the past three years.

From 1993 to 1995, 298 mutual thrifts sold stock to the public, according to Capital Resources Group. However, conversions have slowed a bit in 1996. Through Oct. 3, 49 mutual thrifts had made initial public offerings of stock.

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