Bank official's remarks spur call for federal probe

April 15, 1995|By Bloomberg Business News

NEW YORK -- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters says it wants a federal investigation into whether NationsBank Corp. violated disclosure laws when a top executive said it was interested in combining with Chase Manhattan Corp.

NationsBank Vice Chairman James Hance was quoted in yesterday's Wall Street Journal saying, "If [Chase] had an interest in talking to us, we'd certainly be interested in talking to them."

Those comments by the No. 2 official of the fourth-largest U.S. bank were "absurdly casual, even reckless," the union said in a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt.

The Teamsters' pension funds own at least 373,000 NationsBank shares and 48,000 shares of Chase Manhattan, the sixth-largest U.S. bank. It's concerned that its investment in those banks and others will be adversely affected by a merger that would create the largest U.S. bank.

"If information regarding an alliance has a basis in fact, then it should be disclosed in a proper manner, with deliberation, so that shareholders and the marketplace can learn the full extent of such material completely and simultaneously," wrote Bartlett Naylor, the union's national coordinator for public affairs.

Mr. Hance, who had emphasized that his comments were strictly in response to a question, later reportedly asked to retract his comments. That request came after Chase Manhattan said it had no interest in discussing a combination of the companies and complained to NationsBank.

Ellison Clary, a NationsBank spokesman, would only say yesterday that "the [Wall Street Journal] article speaks for itself." The company had no comment on the Teamsters letter, said Dick Stilley, the company's director of communications.

Analysts said Mr. Hance's comments don't necessarily mean NationsBank would try to buy Chase Manhattan anytime soon.

NationsBank, parent of the largest bank in Maryland, says it's always interested in examining further expansion as a matter of corporate philosophy. "NationsBank made similar remarks to analysts this year when someone asked if it would be interested in combining with Chemical Bank," said Thomas Stone, a vice president at Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co. "The bank wants to show it's always looking."

James Moss, a vice president at Duff & Phelps, said Mr. Hance or other NationsBank executives "would probably have said the same thing if they were asked about any other bank."

A merged NationsBank, with $169.60 billion in assets, and Chase Manhattan, with assets of $114.04 billion, would outrank Citicorp, which is the largest U.S. bank, with $250.49 billion in assets.

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