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Queens County Savings not on the market: CEO

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"We've gone through an extensive review of the alternatives," Ficalora said in an interview. In the end, Long-Island based New York Community Bancorp decided "the best position for the bank to build shareholders' value is to continue with our proven business model."

The decision to preserve the bank's local identity and presence - something Ficalora said many banks have lost in recent years - may come as a relief to the many borough cultural and non-profit institutions that receive millions of dollars in funding from New York Community Bancorp and its foundations.

The bank is the largest single contributor to the Queensboro Public Library system, Ficalora said, and among the major donors to the YMCA as well as Queens College.

Several months ago, Ficalora said, the savings bank initiated a soul-searching review of how to best increase value for shareholders in the holding corporation that has been traded publicly since 1993.

The savings bank brought in a host of outside consultants to go over the books, Ficalora said, and while selling the bank was a possibility, there were a lot more options on the table, including actually acquiring more banks and aligning with others.

But the review gave rise to the speculation that the bank, which SNL Financial has ranked the top performing large thrift in the United States for the last eight years, was only looking to sell, Ficalora said.

Published reports indicated Philadelphia-based Sovereign Bancorp, along with Independence Community Bank and Citigroup Inc. had expressed interest in buying the bank. Reuters reported that the banks would only have done so at a price lower than New York Community would be willing to accept.

"While we were going through that process, we were not able to directly address a lot of the comments made by people," he said. But with decision made, New York Community Bancorp has charted a prudent course of action, Ficalora said, selling off securities, paying down debt and strengthening its local brand identities, which include Queens County Savings Bank, Richmond County Savings Bank, CFS Bank, Roslyn Savings Bank, Roosevelt Savings Bank, First Savings Bank of New Jersey and Ironbound Bank.

"We have taken a more stable course rather than a higher earnings course," Ficalora said.

The company sold off $5 billion in securities at the beginning of the month, which led the bank to lower earnings expectations for the second quarter from as much as 51 cents a share to 15 or 16 cents per share, according to company figures.

Ficalora said the sale will strengthen the company's capital position and insulate it from interest rate fluctuations.

The stock was trading at $18.54 at the close on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, down from a 52-week high of $35.57 on March 1,

Over the last decade, the bank which got its start in northwestern Queens, has become one of the largest savings banks in the country. With 141 branch locations through its local entities in New York and New Jersey, the $26.5 billion company is also a major contributor to community projects.

Over the past five years, New York Community Bancorp has channeled more than $1 million into non-profits, schools, colleges, medical programs, arts alliances, youth sports teams and cultural institutions, said Ilene Angalora, senior vice president and director of investor relations at the bank.

The number does not included the significant contributions made by the banks two principal foundations, the Richmond County Savings Bank Foundation and the Roslyn Savings Bank Foundation.

"The bank has traditionally played a key role in the Queens community," Angarola said. "The list goes on and on."

More importantly, she said, the bank donates not only money but time.

Bank officers and employees routinely organize and participate in blood drives, walk-a-thons and fund-raisers.

Several of the officers are also involved in some high-profile borough cultural institutions. Ficalora, for example, is the chairman of the Queensboro Public Library Foundation. And Robert Wann, a senior executive vice president, recently became a trustee at Queens College, where he has established to scholarships in memory of his mother, Angarola said.

"The name of the bank is New York Community Bank," Angarola said stressing the word community. "There's a reason for that."

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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