Burdened with excess capital and frustrated in efforts to make acquisitions, three California thrifts are once again buying back their stock.
PFF Bancorp in Pomona, and SGV Bancorp, West Covina, announced last month they intend to buy back 5% of their outstanding shares. And Monterey Bay Bancorp, Watsonsville, said it would repurchase up to 10%.
Company executives say they would prefer to buy other thrifts or commercial banks but cannot afford to at today's prices. Frenzied consolidation has boosted buyout prices for even marginal institutions, making any deal potentially dilutive to earnings per share.
According to Sheshunoff Information Services Inc., the average price- book ratio in California deals was a fifth higher in this year's first half than in last year's, and the average for bank deals jumped by nearly half.
"We can't justify the prices," said Larry M. Rinehart, president and chief executive officer at $3 billion-asset PFF. "Hearing four times book used to knock your socks off but it's become nothing these days."
"We've overturned every rock," said Marshall Delk, president of Monterey Bay Bank, with $436 million of assets. "The marketplace doesn't offer enough opportunities."
PFF, Monterey, and SGV have carried excess capital since converting to stock-owned institutions in 1995 and 1996, and each has already repurchased stock at least two times.
PFF, in fact, has bought back its stock four times in the last two years.
The three thrifts are all trading at between 1.22 and 1.34 times book value. Buying back stock is a cheaper means to boost earning per share than acquiring a commercial bank for more than three times book, company officials said.
Martin Friedman, an analyst with Arlington, Va.-based investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., agreed, saying it is effective way for these thrifts to manage their capital.
"Acquisitions don't make much sense," Mr. Friedman said. "There's no accretion to earnings per share."
Until an inexpensive deal arises, Mr. Rinehart said, PFF will seek to acquire an equipment leasing, accounts receivable, or automobile financing company. These businesses, he said, could add $500,000 to $3 million of annual revenue.
Though this type of transaction does not build market share as an acquisition would, Mr. Rinehart said, it "shows the shareholders we're out there doing something."