The headline on a story in yesterday's Business and Finance section about European investor interest in Virginia National Bankshares stock was incorrect in stating that a "majority" share was sought. As the story stated, the foreign investors are discussing an acquisition of 13 percent of VNB stock.
A European banking and investment group is bidding to become the largest stockholder of Virginia National Bankshares Inc., a Norfolk company whose principal subsidiary is Virginia National Bank, the largest statewide bank in the Commonwealth.
The unidentified foreign concern approached VNB in recent weeks and is discussing a purchase of 13 percent of the Virginia bank holding company's common stock, for an equity investment of $20 million.
Although the European company's interest in Virginia National surprised bank industry analysts, there has been a steady stream of foreign investment in American financial institutions in recent months.
In the Washington area, Financial General Bankshares is the subject of an unfriendly takeover bid by Middle Eastern investors, and more than 10 percent of the stock in Riggs National Bank has been acquired by a director, Jorge Carnicero, through an investment firm partly owned by an Argentine banking and manufacturing combine.
Nationally there are about 50 foreign-owned U.S. banks with assets of $19 billion. Pending acquisitions of big banks in New York and California could add another $23 billion and bring foreign bank ownership to one-ninth of all U.S. banking assets.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Virginia National Chairman W. Wright Harrison said he is "aware of much concern about the fact of foreign takeovers."
For this reason, he added, VNB is "making very certain" that the foreign investment would be restricted to the 13 percent level proposed, "far from control of the company."
Harrison said the stock investment would be for book value of VNB shares-about $19.50 apiece. This represents an opportunity to attract equity capital since an offering of additional common shares on Wall Street today would go to market at a lower price.
In over-the-counter trading yesterday, VNB jumped 871/2 cents a share to $16 bid.
Under the proposed investment, which Harrison said would be accomplished through selling authorized but unissued shares, VNB would explore with the foreign concern the development of international business in this country and Europe and the sharing of training in specialized banking areas.
But Harrison emphasized that "we are going to take our time on this, we have no immediate need of capital and it will be 60 days before there is any final action."
The proposed investment would have to be approved by government regulatory agencies, as, well, and a 13 percent investment falls in the range of 5 to 25 percent ownership. Thus, the Federal Reserve Board could require the foreign company to register as a bank holding company if a controlling interest is found.
Currently, the largest single owner of VNB stock is the trust department of Mellon National Bank in Pittsburgh, with less than 5 percent of the total outstanding.
VNB had assets of $2.4 billion on Dec. 31, after a year in which profits rose 32 percent to a record $18.8 million ($2.78 a share). The company has 150 branches in the state, a Nassau office and subsidiaries engaged in mortgage banking, insurance and credit. The Norfolk firm was formed in 1963 through a consolidation of Norfolk and Charlottesville banks, after which about 70 other banks were acquired.
Some bankers and legislators have expressed fears that foreign-controlled U.S. banks will gain competitive edges over domestic banks, which are limited in major retail banking business lines to states in which they are chartered. The General Accounting Office has begun investigating the foreign bank investment trend at the request of Congress.
Bank stock prices have been depressed and, with the decline in relative value of the dollar in recent years, foreign investments in U.S. financial institutions have been regarded as more attractive.
Carnicero, who heads the Northern Virginia electrical engineering, energy and aviation services frim Dynalectron Corp., has said repeatedly in recent months that his investment in Riggs Bank here is for investment purposes only, but he recently placed two associates on the bank's board-a daughter and a Dynalectron official.
Riggs is the largest area banking institution, and Financial General's area banks make it second to Riggs in overall deposits.