Sunday, September 28, 2003

What's the buzz?


Provident possible takeover target?

Once again, Provident Bank has popped up as a possible takeover candidate.

This time, though, the lead bank of Cincinnati-based Provident Financial Group Inc. was among much larger banking companies that were mentioned as possible acquisition targets. Most notably on the latest list: Bank One Corp., the Chicago-based banking powerhouse that in most folks' view is an acquirer, not a likely choice to be gobbled up.

Both Bank One and Provident were among several regional banks mentioned as takeover possibilities in recent reports by Barron's and Bloomberg Business News. Those reports say companies such as Washington Mutual, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan have talked about seeking acquisitions, fueling the latest speculation.

Cassandra Toroian, an analyst at Cohen & Bros., whose recent comments sparked some of the talk, said there could be hundreds of bank mergers during the next five years.

She said any banking company is capable of being bought.

She mentioned Provident as a possible target mainly because she says it has an attractive banking franchise with lots of branches. As for Bank One, Toroian said money center banking giants such as Citigroup or Bank of America might be interested in the Chicago bank.

Provident executives downplayed the talk, calling it unfounded speculation based on one analyst's opinion. Through the years, Provident, like other banks, has been named as a takeout, but remains independent.

The Cincinnati banking company said it has a strategy in place to continue to grow and prosper for shareholders and expand in the Tristate region.

Moreover, any takeover of Provident would have to get the blessing of Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner, whose family directly or indirectly owns more than 40 percent of Provident's stock.

When asked how that could prevent a possible suitor from courting Provident, Toroian said, "At the end of the day, it's still his company, and probably will remain that way until he decides to sell."

Jeff McKinney



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What's the buzz?