Gulfstream Bancshares, a closely held Florida business lender with four branches and equity of about $66 million, has put itself up for sale, said two people with knowledge of the matter.

Hovde Financial, an Inverness, Illinois-based investment bank that advises small lenders, is handling a sale process for Gulfstream, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.

Gulfstream, based in Stuart, Florida, had about $550 million in assets at year-end, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It may solicit interest from rival Florida banks with $1 billion to $3 billion in assets, said one of the people familiar with the situation. Banks of that size that compete directly with Gulfstream include Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida, Centerstate Banks (CSFL) and 1st United Bancorp (FUBC), according to regulatory data.

Brian Avril, Gulfstream's chief financial officer, and Steven Hovde, chief executive officer at Hovde Financial, didn't return calls seeking comment. Representatives for Seacoast, Centerstate and 1st United didn't respond to messages seeking comment.

Gulfstream's net income rose almost 16 percent to $4.2 million in 2012, according to the FDIC. It had total equity of $65.6 million, FDIC data show.

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