SEATTLE (AP) -- Is Washington Mutual Inc.'s
plan to acquire Providian Financial Corp. a match made in financial
heaven or a raw deal for Providian investors?
That's the question Providian's investors
will face Wednesday when they are asked to approve the acquisition.
The stock and cash deal -- valued at
$6.45 billion, or around $18.71 per share -- is being opposed by one of
Providian's largest shareholders, Putnam Investments LLC, and the
investment research firm Glass, Lewis & Co. But others, including
influential advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services, have
recommended that shareholders approve the deal.
Seattle-based Washington Mutual and San
Francisco-based Providian, a credit card issuer, have both repeatedly
said that they think the deal is fair. Washington Mutual expects to use
Providian to break into the $800 billion credit card industry.
Those who oppose the deal contend that
Providian is worth more than the asking price, which represented just a
4 percent premium over its closing stock price around the time of the
June 6 announcement. Shares of the company rose 9 cents to $18.27 in
morning trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, where they have
traded from $14.32 to $19.28 in the past year.
The once-troubled company has over the
past few years turned itself around, which some say make it both an
attractive takeover target and a strong stand-alone company. The
acquisition also comes amid increasing consolidation in the industry,
which some argue has made Providian a rare -- and therefore more
valuable -- commodity.
Such factors led Putnam, which owns about
7.5 percent of the company, to believe that the company would be better
off either staying on it own or finding a better offer.
"Our beef is with the price," said David
King, a senior portfolio manager with Putnam.
Experts at Glass Lewis say the deal
should be valued at between $21 and $24 per share. In opposing the
plans, Glass Lewis also argued that it doesn't think Providian shopped
itself around enough before striking a deal with WaMu, the nation's
largest savings and loan. They also argue the deal appears to be too
sweet for management, at the potential expense of shareholders.
Providian spokesman Alan Elias said
company executives did talk to other financial institutions before
agreeing to do a deal with WaMu. He declined to comment on how the deal
affects top management.
"We continue to feel that the merger is
fairly priced and will be beneficial to shareholders," Elias said.
He noted that other independent groups
have supported the deal.
In its analysis, Institutional
Shareholder Services said it believes the market had already
incorporated the value of an expected acquisition into the share price,
which is why the offer wasn't higher.
"While we recognize that the offer value
may not be the maximum price that could have been achieved, we do
believe that the offer falls within an appropriate range," ISS said in
recommending that shareholders support the deal.
Rick Shane, an analyst with Jeffries &
Co. who follows Providian, said he thinks many outside the industry
could view the deal as underpriced because they perceive the sector to
be growing quickly. But Shane thinks ever-more intense competition will
make it tough for such companies to continue to grow as quickly as they
have been, which is one reason the Providian deal is valued where it is.
"Industry participants are looking at a
reality that perhaps outsiders don't have a perspective to see at this
point," he said. "A year from now, it may all make a lot more sense."
Shares of Washington Mutual rose 19 cents
to $40.94 in trading on the NYSE. They have traded in a 52-week range of
$37.51 to $43.90.