- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

Shares of Columbia Bancorp continued to slip from a one-year high last month as the banking company announced management changes and modest gains for 2003.

The Columbia, Md., parent company of the Columbia Bank, with 24 branches in the Baltimore and Washington area, last week posted a 10 percent increase in annual income with a 3 percent dip in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31.

Fourth-quarter profits dropped to $3.13 million (42 cents per diluted share) from $3.04 million (same) in the 2002 fourth quarter. Income in 2003 rose to $11.9 million ($1.62) from $10.8 million ($1.50) in 2002.

Diluted earnings reflect the value of convertible warrants and stock options.

The company attributed the declining fourth quarter to a sale of a building in the similar quarter the previous year and a drop in mortgage refinancing activity that has affected banks nationwide.

Columbia Bancorp also promoted John Bond Jr. to chairman and chief executive officer and John Scaldara Jr. to president and chief operating officer as part of a “logical succession” plan.

But some analysts say the company’s stock, which closed on the Nasdaq Stock Market yesterday at $30, is outpacing the company’s progress.

The stock hit a one-year high last month at $32.49, but has dipped to the $30 range. Shares closed at $32.25 last week.

“It seemed to us that all the good news generated by this company has already been priced into the stock, even though it still appreciates,” said Gary Townsend, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc., (FBR) an Arlington investment banking company.

Mr. Townsend said the company’s stock is performing in line with the banking industry but advised investors to hold their shares.

“They have positioned themselves well in very strong markets, making them an attractive acquisition for a bigger bank,” Mr. Townsend said. Although he does not own any Columbia Bancorp stock, FBR does have a banking relationship with the company.

Mr. Scaldara would not comment on mergers, saying, “We do characterize ourselves as very open-minded, but our focus is on building value.”

Collyn Bement Gilbert, a senior bank analyst with Livingston, N.J., investment bank Ryan, Beck & Co. Inc., added that the company has focused its loan portfolio heavily on commercial and residential real estate.

The real-estate focus “makes them a little more risky when you see some real-estate values depreciate and refinancing activity slow down [nationwide], but the company is situated in a very strong real-estate market,” Ms. Gilbert said.

Ms. Gilbert, who also advised investors to hold their stock, said she expected Columbia Bancorp to focus on commercial loan growth this year, pointing to a rebounding economy that is influencing more small businesses to apply for loans.

Ms. Gilbert does not own any Columbia Bancorp shares, and Ryan Beck does not have business with the company.

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