Wachovia heads west, stock heads south

Amy Scott May 8, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL:Wachovia is the purchaser. Golden West Financial is the purchasee. Wachovia comes out of that East Coast mecca of the banking industry: Charlotte, N.C. For a long time it has wanted to be a real national bank. Buying Golden West moves it a step in that direction. But the deal also gets Wachovia deeper into the mortgage business. Marketplace’s Amy Scott reports some analysts question the timing.

AMY SCOTT: Marion and Herb Sandler have run Golden West as co-CEOs — and husband and wife — for 43 years. The bank is known as a bit of a throwback. The Sandlers resisted installing ATMs at their branches until about seven years ago. Yet they’ve managed to build the country’s second-largest savings and loan, with consistent double-digit returns. So why sell now?

RYAN BACHELOR: Honestly, they’re 74 and 75 years old. I think they’ve decided it’s time to hang up the cleats.

That’s Morningstar banking analyst Ryan Bachelor. Some of his colleagues have another theory. The Sandlers have built their empire by selling a single product: the popular and potentially risky adjustable-rate mortgage.

Analyst Richard Bové with Punk Ziegel says, as the housing market cools, those loans could become a liability. He says Wachovia is paying a premium for a business that might be in for some rocky years.

RICHARD BOVÉ: They wanna be a national bank. They wanna be a bigger presence in the mortgage markets. And they know that the only way they can get in is to get in when things are troubled.

Golden West has ridden out previous housing slumps. Co-founder Herb Sandler called the theory that he and and his wife are getting out while the going’s good “a bunch of garbage.”

HERB SANDLER: We’ve seen it all. There’s nothing they can throw at us to scare us. The issue is, what is best for the shareholder, for the customer, for the employee, and for our communities.

Wachovia’s shareholders weren’t so enthusiastic. The bank’s last buying spree under former CEO Ed Crutchfield proved disastrous. But analysts expect more consolidation throughout the industry as greater competition forces smaller banks to team up with bigger players.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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