Hancock Holding in Gulfport, Miss., has agreed to buy a portfolio of health care loans from United Community Banks in Blairsville, Ga.

The $21.5 billion-asset Hancock said in a press release Tuesday that it will buy about $190 million in outstanding loans, along with a lease for a loan-production office in Nashville, Tenn., from the $8.2 billion-asset United Community. Hancock said it also hired a team of four health care bankers from United Community to expand the business.

"We are continuing our efforts to further diversify our lending portfolio with the addition of this healthcare team and book of loans," John Hairston, Hancock's president and chief executive, said in the release. "Operating in markets such as Houston with its well-known medical sector, and New Orleans with its brand new medical district, we see this acquisition … as a strategic fit."

The acquisition will add to Hancock's existing portfolio of roughly $830 million in outstanding health care loans.

"While we continue to believe strongly in the prospects for health care lending throughout our footprint, it has become clear that lending to nationally and regionally focused corporate health care borrowers requires larger individual credit exposures than is appropriate for the size we are today," Lynn Harton, United Community's president and chief operating officer, said in a separate release. "Our talented team in Nashville has built a strong portfolio, but the business is better suited for, and will be more successful in, a larger bank such as Hancock."

United Community plans to initially invest the proceeds in investment securities, offsetting most of the net earnings impact, with longer-term plans to "reinvest in growth opportunities," Harton added.

United Community has begun a march toward $10 billion in assets, where regulatory scrutiny increases, after buying First National Bank in Tennessee and Palmetto Bank in South Carolina in the past year.

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