Price Stalls Deal on Ownership Change at Delta Trust

by George Waldon  on Monday, May. 6, 2013 12:00 am  

Delta Trust Cast of Characters: The players in whether there will be a change in ownership at Delta Trust Banking Corp.

Official comment remains elusive, but insiders report that negotiations over an ownership shift at Delta Trust Banking Corp. have stalled over the usual issue:

The parties couldn’t agree on a price.

French Hill, chairman and chief executive of the $441.8 million-asset lender, has adopted a silent stance regarding the latest proposed deal. Other insiders have spoken to Arkansas Business only on the condition of anonymity, but even their take on behind-the-scenes activity has been inconsistent.

Some described the deal as a catalyst for a changing of the guard while others downplayed it as merely an internal redistribution of ownership. Some shareholders were privy to discussions while others weren’t.

“I can’t talk because of a confidentiality agreement,” said one shareholder.

“I’m as curious to know what’s going on as you are,” said another.

An unreturned phone call was the more common response to queries about a reshuffling of ownership at the Little Rock bank holding company. Arkansas Business first reported on April 1 that the family of Stephen LaFrance Sr. was attempting to assemble a larger block of stock in Delta Trust.

That report was followed on April 8 with the names of some would-be investors — Merritt Dyke, Walter “Skip” Ebel III and Jeff Fox — and details of a new management scenario that would replace Hill as chairman with Philip Tappan and Hill as CEO with Delta Trust’s current president, Chris Roberts.

Two days later, Hill addressed the topic in general terms at the company’s annual shareholders meeting at the Historic Arkansas Museum in downtown Little Rock.

“He described it as a very positive thing, and that whatever happened would be good for the company,” said a third shareholder who was present at the meeting.

The LaFrance family is portrayed as a driving force in the stock talks. The LaFrance family made its biggest splash in the pool of investors in 2009 when Stephen LaFrance Sr. bought 4,931 shares of Delta Trust.

That $1.4 million investment was part of a stock offering that helped boost the bank’s capital by more than $7 million.



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