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Investor presses Middlefield Banc to put itself up for sale

An investor of Middlefield, Ohio-based Middlefield Banc Corp. is pressuring the company to put itself up for sale.

Ancora Advisors LLC, which owns a 5.52% stake in the bank, sent a letter in May expressing disappointment at the stock price underperforming despite the bank's quarterly earnings beating analysts' estimates 70% of the time over the last 10 quarters. The investor also criticized the bank's return on average equity being ranked in the bottom half compared with its Midwest banking peers from 2016 to 2018, on a last-12-months basis.

Ancora Advisors also argued that Middlefield Banc could be worth between $65 and $75 per share in a sale and claimed to have spoken with potential buyers who are willing to pay a premium to acquire the bank. Based on the bank's outstanding shares as of June 30, S&P Global Market Intelligence calculates the deal value could reach up to $243.2 million, based on the higher end of the per-share range.

The activist shareholder in August sent another letter stating that while they praise the board for detailing how it evaluates its three-year strategic plan, the economy is now in the late stages of a cycle and growing loans and maximizing profits will require "hypervigilance" from a management that the investor believes may not be able to reach its goals. Ancora Advisors then lobbied the board to initiate a strategic review to evaluate the company's value in a sale compared to its strategic plan.

The investor added that while it believes a sale is the best option, the board might decide against a sale. If that is the case, Ancora Advisors said there should be a reshuffling of the bank's senior management to improve shareholder capital returns.