For sale by owner: Tampa savings bank
By Jeff Harrington, Times Staff Writer
Published August 25, 2004


As one of just two thrifts based in Tampa, Bay Financial Savings Bank already was distinctive. Now it's really sticking out.

In an unusual move, the tiny savings & loan has taken out a national print ad putting itself up for sale.

The ad, which began running Friday in the American Banker trade publication, doesn't mention Bay Financial by name. But only one institution fits the ad's description: "Majority owner of a Tampa FL Thrift seeking acquirer to purchase the institution. Assets $120M w/$20M in capital."

Attached to the ad is a phone number for Ronald Young, Bay Financial's president and chief executive.

An American Banker article on the matter speculated that the sale may be driven by the high prices that Florida banks have been fetching. Earlier this month, for example, Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati agreed to pay $1.6-billion for First National Bankshares of Florida, more than three times its book value.

Typically, banks hire an investment banker to solicit bids when they are ready to sell. At least one analyst said Bay Financial may just be testing the water and may still hire an investment banker.

But the one-branch thrift isn't talking about its motivation or methods. Young did not return calls Tuesday to either the private bank or the phone number in the ad.

Bay Financial may be best known in the bay area for consistently placing toward the top of a nationwide survey on the best checking account deals.

Kenneth Thomas, a Miami banking consultant who runs, said the thrift "should get a good price" even though there's at least one area of concern. The institution reported its noncurrent loans equalled 3.9 percent of total loans at the end of its first quarter; any total over 1 percent may signal credit quality problems.

But Thomas said the specter of problem loans is more than offset by the millions of dollars in capital that Bay is sitting on. "Problem loans are only a problem if you don't have the capital to back them up," he said.

According to American Banker, Bay Financial has taken out ads in its weekday publication running through Thursday.

Veteran bank analyst Richard Bove of St. Petersburg acknowledges he hasn't seen that tactic before.

The closest local comparison, he said, was when Gordon Campbell decided to sell Mercantile Bank of St. Petersburg in early 2002. Before hiring an investment banker, Bove said, Campbell "went around and had lunch with everybody" to alert them that Mercantile was on the market and to gauge interest.

"I guess it's part of this trend that Google started: telling investment bankers to take a walk," he continued. "Everybody figures they can avoid paying the big fees."

Thomas, for one, advises against it. "Everyone knows you're going to get your best bang for the buck by using professionals," he said. "They're going to bring in the maximum number of bids."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at or 813 226-3407.


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