Yes, bank consolidation is an industry trend.
In large part because FirstMerit Corp. over the years had been on a buying spree, the announcement that the Akron bank is being sold to Huntington Bancshares likely caught some industry experts with their spreadsheets down.
But this won’t be the last merger — especially in Ohio, said Richard Hunt, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Bankers Association.
“It’s definitely a trend we’re seeing across the country,” Hunt said. “Ohio is known for being a battleground state for presidential races. Now it’s turning into a battleground for bank consolidation.”
Banks pressured by low interest rates and high-cost governmental regulations have looked to mergers and acquisitions to improve profitability.
Huntington’s planned buyout of FirstMerit probably surprised at least a few industry analysts and investors, said Terry McEvoy, banking analyst with Arizona-based firm Stephens Inc.
The market likely expected FirstMerit to continue to be a buyer of other banks, he said.
It’s possible that the sale earlier this month of a $2.2 billion bank in Wisconsin that otherwise would have made sense for FirstMerit to buy may have factored into the Akron bank’s board decision to sell to Huntington, McEvoy wrote in a note to clients.
He did not name the bank, but Indiana-based Old National Bancorp announced Jan. 12 it is buying Anchor BanCorp Wisconsin, with $2.2 billion in assets, for $461 million.
“If they bought this bank, assuming there was an interest, [FirstMerit] would have likely gotten a lift to future earnings,” McEvoy wrote.
But Huntington’s buyout of FirstMerit makes sense for both businesses and for shareholders, he said. The merged bank will operate in eight states: West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
“I think both banks complement each other extremely well,” McEvoy said.
In addition to giving Huntington an expanded footprint into Chicago and Wisconsin, FirstMerit also “has a solid book of commercial loans, a strong deposit base and an indirect auto business that complements Huntington,” McEvoy wrote in his note to clients.
Buying FirstMerit will result in significant cost savings that will benefit shareholders in the long term, he said.
But an unfortunate part of the consolidation will cost some jobs as Huntington eliminates redundancies and overlaps, McEvoy said.
Hunt said he could not anticipate what changes the banks will make, but said the banks are similar and combining forces for the benefit of consumers.
“These are two banks who know the Midwest inside and out. It’s not like a bank from Hawaii is coming in,” Hunt said.
FirstMerit Corp. on Tuesday reported earnings of 33 cents a share, or $56.7 million, for the fourth quarter, compared with $61.1 million, or 36 cents a share, for the year-ago third quarter.
The per-share results fell short of analysts’ expectations of 34 cents a share.
Shares of FirstMerit surged on the merger announcement. Shares closed up $2.82, or 18.4 percent, to $18.19; shares traded as high as $18.73 during the day. Despite Tuesday’s spike up, FirstMerit shares are down 2.5 percent since Jan. 1 but are up 5.3 percent from a year ago.
Meanwhile, Huntington shares dropped by 75 cents, or 8.5 percent, to $8.05. Shares are down 27.2 percent since Jan. 1 and are down 19.8 percent from a year ago.
Beacon Journal staff writer Katie Byard contributed to this report. Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com.