In Florida, only a few independent community banks have the internally raised capital required to chart their own course — no strings attached.
American Momentum Bank is one such institution. On Friday, the Tampa, Fla., bank, led by the Texas tycoon Donald A. Adam, won two failed banks in Florida, adding $321 million of assets and marking its first deals in the state since raising $100 million in 2006.
Five years ago, it was the most capital ever raised by a new bank in the state. Free of interference from deal-hungry private-equity investors, Adam avoided acquisitions. Instead, he was able to grow patiently and on the bank's own terms.
"When you have an investor base that isn't as familiar with the bank, you see that capital become impatient at times," often leading to "adverse outcomes," said C.K. Lee, a managing partner at Commerce Street Capital LLC.
Though American Momentum has shifted from internal growth to acquisitions, the move was less debated since nearly all of the capital came from management or directors.
"That group was fully up to speed on our strategy and success and up to speed on Florida's economy," said Sam Davis, the bank's president and chief operating officer. When the time was right, "they were very supportive of adding acquisitions to the original strategy."
That is good news for Adam, the bank's chairman and chief executive, who also runs the investment firm TAC Capital LLC. Adam is noted for an unprecedented roll-up of 14 thrifts during the savings and loan crisis into First American Bank. The $3.5 billion-asset Texas bank was sold to Citigroup Inc. in 2005. Adam was unavailable for comment, but he told American Banker in December that he was looking to buy banks in Texas and Florida.
Adam can also play the part of antagonist. Last year he pressured the management of Sterling Bancshares Inc. to improve performance. The Houston company ended up agreeing to sell itself to Comerica Inc. in Dallas.
American Momentum's advantage is that "there is one individual and his team making decisions so you don't have to sign off and get approval from PE partners to pull the trigger on a deal," said Dan Bass, a managing partner at FBR Capital Markets. "If anything, [Adam] can be a little bit more nimble."
American Momentum is among a handful of banks based in Florida that have closely held robust capital to bid on failed banks.
These locals compete and often lose failed-bank bids to out-of-state buyers or in-state banks heavily backed by private equity, often called "platform banks."
In the past six months, "the platform banks are taking it to another level from an aggressiveness standpoint on bidding," said John Corbett, the president and CEO of CenterState Bank of Florida, which is part of CenterState Banks Inc. in Davenport.
American Momentum secured a double-digit discount on the assets of LandMark Bank of Florida in Sarasota and Southshore Community Bank in Apollo Beach. It opted against a loss-share agreement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., meaning any bad assets from the failed banks are the buyer's responsibility.
"You don't see as much aggressiveness from in-state banks because capital … is more scarce," Corbett said. "You have to protect your shareholders and deploy capital in a way that you think will yield a responsible return."
CenterState won four failed banks last year and still bids, but has recently announced more purchase-and-assumption deals.
Even at American Momentum, management has spent more than a year bidding on failures and looking at traditional deals. The bank raised another $50 million from insiders in late 2009 to pursue acquisitions.
Davis said they do not aim for a certain asset size. Rather, management wants to fill gaps. Last week's purchases are for banks in surrounding markets where American Momentum had some branches. Davis said the banks also provide the individual and small- to midsize commercial clients that American Momentum lacked since it mostly deals with larger companies.
The operating environment is far different than the S&L crisis, when Adam quickly built a 100-branch bank at First American.
At that time, "there were so many problems in Texas that the regulators … were real pressed to consolidate," said Lee, who once worked for the Office of Thrift Supervision. Now, regulators are "more skeptical when it comes to people with lot of capital" and they "have the luxury of sitting back and letting this proceed on a measured pace."
It may take longer for American Momentum, which has 20 branches, to replicate the size of First American.
Still, Davis said that American Momentum has the systems in place to support a multibillion asset bank in the Southeast, fueled by capital from eager investors. He said the bank would consider any source of capital as it grows.
"By no means do we believe we're out" after three acquisitions, he said. "This is just the start, not the finish."