Bank profits strengthened in the first quarter, but the outlook for bank deals has not.

Executives at six acquisitive banks from coast to coast told investors and analysts last week that they expect 2012 to be another slow year for mergers and acquisitions.

Increased merger chatter may not translate into more deals because of continued price disputes between buyers and sellers, the heads of BB&T (BBT), Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) and other regional banks said in calls to discuss first-quarter reports.

"People are still, it seems, very much in a waiting stage," BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Kelly King said on Thursday. Sellers "want to see their [share] prices go back up to what they think they might get to."

BB&T closed the purchase of certain insurance operations from Crump Group this month and has a pending deal for the bank assets of BankAtlantic Bancorp in Fort Lauderdale.

The $175 billion-asset BB&T would like to do more deals in Maryland, Florida and Texas, King said. For now it is "laser focused" on attracting new customers as it waits out the merger lull, King said.

Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington purchased the failed Fidelity Bank in Detroit two weeks ago. Stephen Steinour, the president and chief executive of the $56 billion-asset company, downplayed the prospect of additional deals for failed or open banks on Wednesday.

"The level of FDIC activity, frankly, has been lower than we would have estimated and it may be, through the cycle, a substantially lower number than many would have thought," Steinour said.

Banks performed better than expected in the first quarter: 38 of the banks that Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW) tracks have reported earnings so far, and 30 of them exceeded consensus estimates, KBW said in a research note Friday.

Merger volume has been static to date. Forty-three takeovers of U.S. banks and thrifts worth $4.4 billion had been announced as of Monday, according to Bloomberg data. There were 43 deals worth $2.7 billion during the same time last year.

"In terms of the M&A environment, it remains very quiet," Kirk W. Walters, the chief financial officer of the $28 billion-asset People's United Financial (PBCT) of Bridgeport, Conn., said on Thursday.

People's United in February agreed to buy 56 supermarket branches in and around New York City from Citizens Financial Group of Providence R.I.

Umpqua Holdings (UMPQ) wants to make additional acquisitions in California after purchasing a small bank in San Luis Obispo, Calif., this month, Umpqua President and Chief Executive Raymond Davis said in the Portland, Ore., company's earnings call on Thursday.

Deals cannot be forced, he said.

"You can't schedule acquisitions. I mean, the sellers decide when things happen," Davis said. "I wish I could put them in the order I'd love to have them fall in, but unfortunately [they] don't work that way."

Deals are determined by market conditions and regulatory decisions, Joseph Ficalora, the president and chief executive of New York Community Bancorp (NYB), said during the Westbury, N.Y. company's earnings call on Wednesday.

"There's definitely more conversations," Ficalora said. "Whether or not there'll be more activity, I think, depends on a lot of factors."

New York Community has $43 billion of assets.

City National (CYN) of Los Angeles preached M&A caution ahead of its agreement Monday to buy a Rochester, N.Y. equipment leasing company called First American Equipment Finance.

Russell Goldsmith, the $24 billion-asset company's president and CEO, said on Thursday that the company would like to buy a depository with assets of $500 million to $3 billion.

"There's still a mismatch out there for a lot of potential bank sellers as to what the realities are of valuations for banks today versus what they were in 2007," Goldsmith said.


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