Continuing its recent rise from the ashes, FirstFed Financial Corp., the Los Angeles-based parent of First Federal Bank of California, saw its stock surge more than 75 percent in late August amid surprisingly encouraging signs.

The company reported Aug. 20 in a monthly regulatory filing that it has successfully reduced its exposure to adjustable-rate loans and mortgage-backed securities in July. FirstFed said the percentage of adjustable-rate loans in its overall loan portfolio dropped to 77.5 percent in July. That number is down from 79.7 percent in June and 96.6 percent in July 2007.

The company also said it has increased its loans and deposits in July while reducing its exposure to mortgage-backed securities to $42.5 million from $49.8 million in the same month last year.

The positive indicators were welcome news for FirstFed, which was cited by several analysts as a likely candidate to fail in the wake of IndyMac Bancorp's demise on July 11. FirstFed's stock price dropped below $4 down 93 percent for the year immediately after IndyMac was seized by federal regulators, but has been on the rise since.

After the positive monthly report, as well as indications last week from a Keefe Bruyette & Woods analyst that short-selling was artificially suppressing the stock price, shares of FirstFed surged more than 75 percent, closing at $16.03 on Aug. 28.

Analyst Frederick Cannon pointed out in an Aug. 28 note to clients that the short interest in the company was 93 percent of outstanding shares, and could prompt a review by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been closely monitoring the impact of short-selling on financial stocks.

In a recent interview, FirstFed Chief Financial Officer Douglas Goddard said, "There's a very active short-seller community that's trying to" keep the company's stock down. Cannon maintained a target price of $40 on the company's stock.

Separately, FirstFed also said last week that it has opened a new branch in Anaheim, its 38th retail office.

Tapping Real Estate

With a growing number of companies looking to raise capital to cope with the tight credit markets, real estate investment banking firm Cushman & Wakefield Sonnenblick Goldman has opened a Los Angeles office to provide local companies with access to debt and equity capital sources.

The firm, headquartered in New York, has already placed more than $1 billion in debt and equity financing in Los Angeles, and executives said the market is continuing to grow.

"During these times of capital market uncertainty, investors are putting greater reliance on recapitalizations, refinancings, capital raising and joint venture structuring as well as loan sales and advisory services in order to enhance their capital position," said Chief Executive Thomas MacManus in a release.

The firm, a unit of brokerage Cushman & Wakefield Inc., has offices in six other cities across the country.

Downtown Push

Embattled financial services company Wachovia Corp. plans to open its first full-service retail financial center in downtown Los Angeles early next year as part of its Western U.S. growth strategy.

The 7,500-square-foot facility will handle commercial, business and government banking for the local region. The move follows the company's recent opening of a downtown wholesale banking center.

The expansion comes in spite of difficulties brought on by its significant exposure to risky mortgage loans. Struggling under the weight of the collapsed mortgage market, Wachovia has been cited recently as a potential buyout candidate for stronger competitors like Wells Fargo & Co.

Stock Buyback

K-Fed Bancorp, the Covina-based holding company for Kaiser Federal Bank, announced last week the completion of a previously announced stock repurchase program as well as the authorization of a second buyback.

The company authorized the purchase of up to 5 percent of the company's outstanding shares, to be completed within the next 12 months. The news came as the company completed the purchase of 10 percent of its stock under a program announced in January. Shares closed Aug. 28 at $10.03.

Comings and Goings

Hanmi Financial Corp., the Los Angeles-based holding company for Hanmi Bank, announced it has hired John Park as executive vice president and chief credit officer Los Angeles-based Preferred Bank said Jason Yuan has resigned from its board of directors after being appointed ambassador to Taiwan First Private Bank & Trust, a Los Angeles-based affiliate of Boston Private Financial Holdings Inc., has hired V. Charles Jackson as chief executive.

Staff reporter Richard Clough can be reached at rclough@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 251.

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