A Regional Bank's Worldwide Fans

Some people may think JSB Financial, the holding company for Jamaica Savings Bank, is an investment risk because it operates only in recession-ridden New York City and environs, with 13 branches in Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island. But some investment pros think otherwise.

"JSB is the best-capitalized thrift in our universe--and one of the best-capitalized in the country," argues Value Line analyst Michael Schiffman. Even more bullish is investment manager Ed Walczak: "JSB is a well-managed, conservatively run bank with a clean balance sheet that's definitely worth much more than its stock price."

Walczak's words shouldn't be taken lightly. He's the chief investment officer of Vontobel USA, a unit of Swiss bank Vontobel in Zurich, with more than $11 billion in assets under management. Walczak notes that JSB's stock, now at 14 3/4, is selling well below its book value of 21.

He likes the fact that JSB invests 70% of its passbook deposits in federal government securities and only 30% in mortgages and other loans. The bank's nonperforming assets are a minuscule 0.08% of total assets of $1.6 billion, notes Walczak.

The depositor-owned mutual savings bank made its initial public offering on June 27, 1990, for 16 million shares at $10 a share. It has committed itself to buying back 10% of its stock every year and has already purchased the first 10%.

Walczak is certain that JSB is takeover bait because of its well-capitalized operations. He notes that big California banks, such as H. F. Ahmanson, have been buying well-capitalized banks with undervalued stocks. Walczak thinks JSB could be worth as much as $35 a share in a buyout.