Wall Street analysts said they are cautiously optimistic about what would result from Amsouth Bancorp.'s planned takeover of First American Corp., as the $6.3 billion deal cleared another hurdle on the road to completion last week.
Shareholders of Amsouth and Memphis, Tenn.-based First American voted overwhelmingly in favor of the merger late Thursday, with more than 93% of voters approving. The deal is expected to close Oct. 1.
Though some concerns remain about First American's problems in integrating Deposit Guaranty Corp., a Jackson, Miss., bank it acquired last year, Amsouth is taking steps to ensure a smooth combination with First American, analysts said.
Amsouth is "taking the lessons" from First American's difficulties with Deposit Guaranty "to effect a better integration," said Marni Pont O'Doherty, a bank analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
First American and Deposit Guaranty integrated their systems over a weekend, but Amsouth plans to take four months to combine systems, she said. "They will have a lot of people in their branches to help staff members use the new system," Ms. O'Doherty said. "They're taking their time and being a lot more careful."
Analysts applauded moves Amsouth has made to expedite the merger. For example, last month it named Sloan Gibson, who had been its chief financial officer, to oversee First American's operations. Mr. Gibson's appointment is "the most noteworthy" action Amsouth has taken, said Kennneth Hemauer, an analyst at Robert Baird & Co. in Milwaukee.
Birmingham, Ala.-based Amsouth has already announced layoffs related to the acquisition. It said last month that it would slash 1,400 jobs. Remaining employees do not have to worry about their jobs, Ms. O'Doherty said.
"Management changes and pre-planning have been done on an accelerated schedule that should put Amsouth in a position to hit the ground running," Mr. Hemauer said.
First American has begun to reverse the flight of customers from Deposit Guaranty that caused the Tennessee bank to cut earnings estimates this year. But "the key issue people will watch is to see if that improvement continues," Mr. Hemauer said.
Amsouth, which has $20.6 billion of assets and has not been involved in a merger for five years, has shown significant earnings growth since 1994. Its return on equity reached 21% at June 30, from 12.5% in the first quarter of 1994, Ms. O'Doherty said.
Analysts said they were impressed with Amsouth's operations across the board, especially its indirect auto loans, which are made through auto dealers. "We believe Amsouth will execute its auto strategy well with a strong credit discipline," said Jacqueline Reeves, an analyst at Putnam, Lovell, de Guardiola & Thornton Inc. After the merger, auto loans will represent about 14% of Amsouth's loan portfolio, she said.
Despite all the optimistic signs, analysts said they will withhold final judgement on the deal until all of the companies' operations have been combined.
"It's much too early to tell" whether the merger will turn out to be a success, said John Moore of Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, N.C.