In what would be its first bank acquisition in seven years, Center Bancorp Inc. in Union, N.J., announced Thursday that it is buying the private-equity backed Saddle River Valley Bank in an all-cash deal.

Anthony Weagley, the president an chief executive of Center's bank subsidiary, the $1.4 billion-asset Union Center National Bank, said in a news release that the transaction fits in with the bank's strategy of bulking up in northern New Jersey. Both of Saddle River's branches are in affluent Bergen County, while most of Union Center's branches are in central New Jersey.

The deal would be the Center Bancorp's first since it acquired the $96 million-asset Red Oak Bank in Hanover Township, N.J., in 2005. Under terms of the deal, Center Bancorp would acquire Saddle River's two branches and "substantially all' of its $120 million assets and $106 million of deposits at a price equal to 90% of Saddle River's stockholders' equity at the time the deal closes sometime in the second quarter.

Saddle River has lost money in every quarter since it was founded in 2006, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. Through the first nine months of 2011, the thrift lost  $2.2 million.

The thrift is very well capitalized, however, thanks to a large cash infusion it received in late 2010 from an affiliate of the private-equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co.

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