BB&T Corp. continued its push into Georgia Wednesday, unveiling a deal to buy Premier Bancshares of Atlanta for $639 million of stock.

The stock deal is the Winston-Salem, N.C., banking company's third in Georgia this year and the company's largest deal since its July 1997 purchase of United Carolina Banks for $985 million.

It caps a string of 40 deals that have helped boost BB&T's assets 78% in two years, to $40.8 billion. The company has also been a big buyer of insurance, investment and specialty finance concerns.

The acquisition "is consistent with BB&T's strategy" of expansion, said John Balkind, a bank analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton. "They have been focusing on Atlanta. They are one of the best consolidators in the Southeast. They generally haven't overpaid for transactions."

Premier, a $1.4 billion-asset company, has also been an avid buyer. By the time the transaction closes in the first quarter, Premier would have $1.9 billion of assets and 40 branches, BB&T said.

"Premier is a quality institution that will allow us to expand our presence in the economically strong metro Atlanta market," John Allison, BB&T's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. "We're excited about joining a community bank with a strong commitment to personal service."

The purchase of Premier would give BB&T the sixth largest share of deposits in metropolitan Atlanta. Premier's operations are primarily in Gwinnett, Cobb, Forsyth and Henry counties.

BB&T completed its acquisition of Newnan, Ga.-based First Citizens Corp. July 9. First Citizens had assets of $411 billion. The purchase of Premier, along with the pending acquisition of First Liberty Financial Corp. of Macon, would boost its Georgia assets to $4 billion.

Analysts concede that with its fourth acquisition in a year, BB&T may appear to be on an unmitigated run. The bank has spent more than $1.5 billion on acquisitions in the Southeast.

But Lana Chan, an analyst with CIBC World Markets in New York, said the bank has held true to its strategy. BB&T under Mr. Allison was selective in its purchases in Virginia and the Carolinas. Now, the bank is taking the same approach in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.

"If you looked at most of your deals recently, they're in the size and range they've talked about," she said. "They have a proven track record in acquisitions."

Ms. Chan also believes that BB&T is winning a reputation in the South as a sought-after acquirer. Smaller banks are not only won over with BB&T's record of making financial targets, but also through its relatively smooth integrations.

Premier stockholders will receive 0.5155 BB&T share for each of their Premier shares.

BB&T stock closed Wednesday at $36.625, up 87.5 cents. Premier shares rose 43.75 cents to $19.875.

Premier's earnings plunged 40% in the second quarter, to $3.9 million from $6.4 million a year earlier. Weakness in the commercial and mortgage banking businesses caused much of the drop, bank officials said.

BB&T had $39.2 billion of assets as of June 30. Its earnings jumped 19% in the second quarter to $152.8 million, benefiting from gains in both interest and noninterest income.

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