Ameris to make big Atlanta push with Hamilton acquisition

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Ameris Bancorp in Moultrie, Ga., has agreed to buy Hamilton State Bancshares in Hoschton, Ga.

The $7.9 billion-asset Ameris said it will pay $405.7 million in cash and stock for the $1.8 billion-asset Hamilton. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.

“While we have had a small presence in Atlanta for a number of years, we have been looking for an opportunity to expand our presence in this important market,” Edwin Hortman Jr., Ameris’ chairman, president and CEO, said in a press release Friday.

Buying Hamilton “is a fantastic way to jump start our Atlanta strategy," Hortman added.

Hamilton, formed in 2004, expanded after the financial crisis with six acquisitions, including four failed banks. Its last acquisition closed in 2015.

Most of Hamilton’s 28 branches are in the Atlanta area. Ameris said it will have $1.4 billion in deposits in the Atlanta area when the deal closes.

Stephens and Rogers & Hardin advised Ameris. Sandler O'Neill and Alston & Bird advised Hamilton.

Ameris, which was recently released from a regulatory order tied to Bank Secrecy Act compliance, has been an aggressive acquirer in recent months. It agreed in November to buy Atlantic Coast Financial in Jacksonville, Fla.

Ameris also announced on Friday that it will buy out U.S. Premium Finance for $21.5 million in cash. Ameris has held a roughly 5% minority stake in the premium finance business since early last year.

"When we initially entered in to our partnership with the USPF team, we had high expectations for the quality, profitability and growth of this business," Hortman said. "After working together for the past year, USPF has exceeded expectations on all fronts."

Rogers & Hardin advised Ameris. Vedder Price advised U.S. Premium Finance.

Separately, Ameris’ said its fourth-quarter earnings fell by 50% from a year earlier to $9.2 million. Excluding a one-time, $13.4 million hit tied to recently passed tax reform, its profit would have increased by 24%.

Its stock has been a strong performer so far this year.

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