After making two major acquisitions in as many months, Community Bancorp LLC says it's in no hurry to spend the rest of its war chest.
The Houston company, formed in 2009 to take over distressed banks, raised $1 billion late in the fourth quarter of last year. It's already put more than half of that to work, by purchasing the $1.6 billion-asset Cadence Financial Corp. in Starkville, Miss., in March and the $3 billion-asset Superior Bank from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. this month.
Now that it has critical mass, Community Bancorp aims to take its time deploying the rest of the cash. The funding came mostly from pension funds and endowments — long-term investors that aren't counting on a quick flip.
"We are meaningfully invested now, so we feel that we can afford to very patient and very studious of the opportunities," said Paul B. Murphy Jr., the company's chief executive. "We have our eye on every deal from Florida to Texas and a few other regions. We are trying not to be locked in our thinking."
For investment groups, getting the initial deal completed is often the greatest challenge, said Christopher Marinac, an analyst at FIG Partners LLC. Community Bancorp can now be more methodical with its approach to growth.
"Cadence gave them enough to matter and now they have Superior, too. They can take this and sort of be creative now as they build out their network," Marinac said. "I suspect that over the next six months we will see them make other moves as they look to capture markets."
Murphy is the former chief executive of Amegy Bank of Texas, an $11 billion-asset franchise based in Houston that was sold to Zions Bancorp. in 2005 for more than four times its tangible book value.
While it digests what it has acquired, Community Bancorp is also tracking about 16 distressed banks. About half of those are in the South, Murphy said, while the rest are scattered across the country. For instance, he said Community Bancorp is interested in Colorado.
"I think Denver would be a great place to own a bank, but the state overall has some good opportunities," Murphy said.
Each candidate has notable size. Murphy said the company is looking at banks with assets of $500 million to $3 billions. The inventory of distressed banks is also giving the company some breathing room. "We think the pipeline of failed-bank deals is still probably two to four more years deep," Murphy said. "So we have some time to look around."
While the company's first acquisitions was a more traditional one, Community Bancorp's original intentions were closer to its deal with FDIC for Superior Bank. "While Cadence was on the page, Superior was a bull's eye of what we set out to do," Murphy said.
Murphy said Cadence was an open-bank deal because its problem assets, which made up roughly 6% of its total assets, were high but not insurmountable.
The company paid $2.50 a share in cash and also addressed Cadence's $44 million investment from the Troubled Asset Relief Program for $38 million. (The deal supplanted an agreement Cadence had with Trustmark Corp. in Jackson, Miss., to sell for $2 a share.)
Murphy said his team had been following Superior for seven months, but could not get comfortable with a traditional acquisition. At the end of 2010 the thrift was critically undercapitalized and its nonperforming assets totaled 11.3% of total assets.
Dan Bass, a managing director at FBR Capital Markets, said that the Cadence deal was too good to pass up. "They didn't initially want to do an open-bank deal, but they were able to get a good feel for what the hole was," Bass said. "They got a great deal."
For now, Cadence and Superior will be kept separate as the problems at each are sorted, Murphy said. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued Community Bancorp a new charter for the failed thrift, since Cadence remains under a regulatory order and would not have been eligible to buy Superior.
Analysts and Murphy said Community Bancorp could eventually combine the banks, which together haved 103 branches in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. There is little overlap.
"The consolidation of the two could make a lot of sense for a number of reasons," Murphy said. "For now, though, we are going to keep them separate. We have some time to figure things out."