If the second quarter's results are any indication, Hancock Holding Co.'s acquisition of Whitney Holding Co. is destined to be a crowd pleaser.

Having completed the Whitney acquisition just 26 days before the end of the quarter, Hancock, in Gulfport, Miss., thoroughly impressed analysts on Friday when it reported operating earnings of 48 cents a share, beating the analysts' consensus of 41 cents a share. Those figures do not include a $22 million merger-related expense, which resulted in the company posting net income of 22 cents per share.

"I thought the Whitney deal was a good one from the get-go, but I didn't think it would be quite this good at day one," said Peyton Green, an analyst with Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. "I thought it would be the third or fourth quarter before we began to see the effects."

Though Green and other analysts liked the deal initially, it was not universally viewed as favorable. Moody's Investors Service downgraded Hancock's long-term and short-term ratings when the deal was completed, saying that Hancock could struggle absorbing the bigger Whitney, which had not turned a profit in two years. Though those risks might remain, analysts said that these first results are a positive first step.

"It is still too early to say it is a grand slam, but I think this quarter provides a little evidence that there is less risk involved than some people perceived," said Andy Stapp, an analyst at B. Riley & Co.

Stapp said he was most interested in the anticipated growth in commercial and industrial loans from the Whitney team. Excluding the acquisition, Hancock reported a 1% reduction in loans from the prior quarter.

During a Friday conference call with investors, Carl Chaney, Hancock's president and chief executive, said he expects growth in C&I lending.

"I think you could expect that trend," Chaney said. "The Whitney franchise is now truly making that transition from a defensive mode to a very aggressive offensive mode, hence the ability to really focus on growing loans. I think what we saw at the very end of the quarter is likely to continue, with respect to loan growth."

Green also noted a decrease in the expected merger-related costs. Hancock had initially projected expenses of $210 million; that is now $125 million as more Whitney employees have opted to stay.

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