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PhillyDeals: Mysterious group tops the bid for Sovereign

Jay S. Sidhu won't say if it was him. But Banco Santander SA says a mysterious group of "unspecified" investors offered $6 a share to buy Sidhu's old company, Sovereign Bancorp.

Jay S. Sidhu

won't say if it was him. But

Banco Santander SA

says a mysterious group of "unspecified" investors offered $6 a share to buy Sidhu's old company,

Sovereign Bancorp


Santander already is Sovereign's biggest investor and it intends to buy the shares it doesn't already own, and for about half of that $6 bid.

Bloomberg reported Sidhu was behind the deal, citing unnamed sources. All Sidhu would tell me is that he's disappointed in the low price Santander is paying.

"I have tremendous admiration for Santander and for Sovereign and its people. But as a shareholder I'm very disappointed with the substantially lower-than-peer-group returns," he told me.

Three ironies:

Sidhu lost his job as Sovereign CEO because dissident shareholders, led by current director

Ralph Whitworth

, insisted Santander's original investment in Sovereign three years ago came too cheaply, when the stock was over $20 a share.

Santander may, as Sidhu claims, be "getting a steal." Borrowers are flooding back to Sovereign loan offices as mortgage rates drop, though

spokeswoman Ellen Molle

adds that "80 percent" are refinancing old loans. (Any recovery may come too late for some Sovereign workers, who say the company has circulated an internal memo warning of layoffs. Sovereign wouldn't comment.)

Sovereign's board turned aside the mysterious $6 offer because it "did not identify any source of financing." But Whitworth and his fellow directors probably don't have to sell the bank to Sidhu, even if he could pay a higher price.

Though it's run by executives in Boston, Sovereign is legally organized in Pennsylvania, where corporate law allows directors to ignore the highest offer - even if shareholders would benefit - if they decide a lower offer somehow means a better future for customers, neighbors, employees, or other stakeholders.

Sidhu says he knows about that law: He used it in his earlier attempt to fight Whitworth and the dissidents.

Cheap, not easy

The 30-year, fixed-rate home mortgage loan has dropped from the mid-6 percent to the low-5 percent range since summer, but that doesn't mean we're back to the easy-money days of the mid-2000s, says

Jerry Schiano

, chief executive of

New Penn Financial L.L.C

., Plymouth Meeting.

"We've had to say 'No' to a lot of people," Schiano told me. "It's a great time to look at refinancing - if you have three things": good credit, equity in your home despite the drop in home values, and a steady job.

"Our pipeline is up 60 percent from a month ago," Schiano said, and New Penn expects to close deals worth $30 million this month. "Almost all the increase is refinancing," Schiano said. People aren't rushing back to buy homes.

Schiano built New Penn by purchasing

Stenton Mortgage

and Greenbelt, Md.-based

Universal Trust Mortgage Assets

last summer. Its 110 employees mostly make

Federal Housing Administration

-backed loans, which means relatively tight guidelines and lots of paperwork. For people with more than 20 percent equity, New Penn does Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-backed loans.

One market that hasn't recovered: "jumbo loans," which finance high-six-figure and million-dollar-plus loans, without government guarantees. Those borrowers "are still in the 7 percents," Schiano said.

Schiano previously headed

Wilmington Finance Co.

, a "high-end subprime" lender that he says he grew into a profitable $2 billion-a-year business before owner

WSFS Corp.

sold it to

American International Group

. AIG built it up to a $15 billion-a-year lender, with 2,000 workers, then laid off most of them as the subprime market crashed, taking AIG with it.

SevOne looks overseas

SevOne Inc.

, the Newark, Del., firm that tracks digital traffic for


, says

Osage Ventures

, the Philadelphia firm headed by ex-

Wolf Block

partner turned tech, health-care and retail investor

Robert S. Adelson

, agreed last week to raise "several million dollars" so "we can launch this company in our Europe, Middle East and Asia markets," says SevOne

president Michael Phelan.

Osage also invested in SevOne last year, along with



John Ryan

, among others.

Multinationals like Thomson Reuters and Credit Suisse already use SevOne to track network and application performance and customer and employee usage. Phelan says he wants to be able to support them in the field, not just from his 30-person headquarters near the University of Delaware.