Atlanta's Premier Bancshares has capped off a year of acquisitions with a holiday shopping spree.
Early this month, the bank announced plans to buy a $130 million-asset Bank Holding Co., Griffin, Ga., for $32 million, and followed that Dec. 16 by agreeing to buy Lanier Bank and Trust Co. for $26 million. Cumming, Ga.- based Lanier has $65 million of assets.
In all, Premier has made five takeover deals this year and completed three of them. What was a $295 million-asset company a year ago is finishing 1997 with pending deals that would boost assets to $1 billion.
Darrell D. Pittard, Premier's chairman and chief executive officer, said his company's strategy is to use bank deals to grow to a size at which it can offer anything an out-of-town big bank can.
"Over the past 10 years, there has been tremendous consolidation in this area," Mr. Pittard said. "Right now, there is no bank in Atlanta that fills the niche of providing big-bank services with local decision-making. We intend to be that bank."
Founded in 1993 as a mortgage lender, Premier became a bank holding company in 1995 when it bought Atlanta-based Allatoona Federal Savings Bank and renamed it Premier Bank. The company merged with $160 million-asset First Alliance Bancorp, Marietta, in 1996.
The banks Premier bought this year, both Georgia based, were $223 million-asset Central and Southern Holding Co., Milledgeville, and $155 million-asset Citizens Gwinnett Bankshares, Duluth. It also bought Traditional Mortgage, an Atlanta-based lender with offices in Mobile, Ala., Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston, S.C.; that deal gave Premier a presence outside Georgia for the first time.
"Premier is doing a good job in a market that doesn't have an effective community bank presence," said Hope Willard, analyst with J.C. Bradford & Co., Nashville.
The company is also quickly achieving cost savings from its deals, Ms. Willard added. For that reason, she said, the rapid-fire buying has actually enhanced profitability instead of draining earnings, which is what often happens in bank deals.
The deals have moved Premier into the surrounding area 50 miles outside of Atlanta. Mr. Pittard said the bank plans to continue to grow throughout north Georgia in 1998.
"We want to be in high-growth areas," he said. "As the market continues to move out from downtown, we want to be in the growing satellite cities."
Ms. Willard agreed with that strategy. "The 15 counties surrounding metropolitan Atlanta have enjoyed some of the nation's best growth," she said. "That area should provide a strong economic backdrop for the bank to grow."