The United Mine Workers of America has received at least two serious bids to acquire its 76 percent stake in Washington Bancorp and the holding company's principal subsidiary, the National Bank of Washington, sources said yesterday.
Sources said, however, that a decision to accept one of the offers for the District's third-biggest bank and its parent company probably will not be made for at least two weeks. They said several issues still need to be resolved before a binding agreement can be reached.
Although sources were unable to identify any of the prospective buyers of the UMW's interest in the bank company, one individual familiar with the negotiations said the offers include a bid from a group of New York investors.
One UMW source said yesterday that, barring the unforeseen, an agreement is possible within the week. However, other sources said they did not expect negotiations to proceed that quickly.
UMW officials yesterday would say only that negotiations are being handled through the union's investment banker, Goldman, Sachs & Co., and that no definitive agreement has been reached.
Washington Bancorp Chairman Luther H. Hodges Jr. said he was unaware of any imminent announcement that a deal has been struck. "We've said all along that [the bank] is for sale," Hodges said. "There may be a little more smoke, but it's such an unpredictable situation you just can't be sure."
The union, whose founder John L. Lewis bought controlling interest in NBW in the 1940s, wants more income from its investment than management has been willing to provide through dividends.
While sale of the bank appears to be the best financial move for the cash-strapped union, many UMW members have strong emotional ties to the $1.3 billion institution.
The UMW's executive board authorized union President Richard L. Trumka and other union officers to sell the bank if they could get a specific price. Sources said bids meeting that price have been submitted.
Four years ago, after the bank was hit with insider-loan scandals, the Comptroller of the Currency forced NBW to hire new management as part of a major reorganization. The comptroller then gave the new management considerable freedom from the union's control over decisions made at the bank.
Formerly a loss-ridden institution, NBW has regained profitability under Hodges, the former undersecretary of Commerce who had been chairman of North Carolina National Bank.
Once the bank shed most of its problem loans, it found it lacked sufficient capital to grow much bigger, and slashed its dividend to retain earnings to support growth. That decision had a substantial impact on the union's investment because its stake in NBW and the bank's parent company was the chief source of the UMW's investment income.
The UMW hired Goldman, Sachs to study the union's finances, and a key recommendation from that study was the sale of the NBW stake.
Washington Bancorp's stock, which is not actively traded, closed yesterday at $52 bid, $55 asked, in over-the-counting trading. With ownership of more than 1 million shares, the UMW's investment is worth more than $50 million, based on yesterday's close.
Meanwhile, Washington Bancorp reported last month that its profits plunged in the fourth quarter because it had substantially increased its loan loss reserve to cover several deteriorating loans. The bank company said profits for the full year were 34 percent higher, at $8.2 million.