Ameris Bancorp in Moultrie, Ga., has has agreed to buy Merchants and Southern Banks of Florida in Gainesville, along with a number of Bank of America branches.

The $4 billion-asset Ameris said in a press release Thursday that it will pay $50 million in cash for the $473 million-asset Merchants and Southern. The acquisition will allow Ameris to strengthen its oeprations just west of Jacksonville, Fla., where Merchants and Southern has 14 branches. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter.

"We are very excited about the Merchants & Southern acquisition and the opportunities that we believe are present in the Gainsville, Ocala and Jacksonville markets," Edwin Hortman, Ameris’ president and chief executive, said in the release.

Ameris also agreed to buy the 18 branches from Bank of America, located in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

A purchase price was not announced for the branch deal. Ameris will assume roughly $812 million in deposits as part of the B of A transaction, which is expected to close in the second quarter.

"With this transaction, Ameris will further strengthen its Georgia and Florida market presence with the acquisition of a low-cost funding source and an attractive customer base," Hortman said.

Ameris has scooped up several small banks in Georgia and Florida in recent years. It bought the $436 million-asset Coastal Bank in Savannah, Ga., in July. Six months earlier, it bought the $748 million-asset Prosperity Bank in Saint Augustine, Fla.

Separately, Ameris said it plans to raise about $115 million through a private placement of 5.3 million shares of common stock. The company plans to use the proceeds, in part, to fund its latest acquisitions.

News of the company's most recent deals comes as it reported a sharp rise in quarterly profits, boosted by recent acquisitions.

The company earned $10.6 million in the fourth quarter, after earning $1.4 million a year earlier. Earnings of 39 cents a share were 3 cents below the average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

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