Though Florida is home to many banking companies, none of them are likely to get a piece of the $4.5 billion of deposits that Huntington Bancshares Inc. is selling there as early as next month.
The Columbus, Ohio, company announced in early July that it was unloading its 139 branches and 458 automated teller machines in central Florida. Since then the states bankers have been buzzing with speculation about who might emerge as a buyer.
Cited most often are SouthTrust Corp. and AmSouth Bancorp, two Birmingham, Ala., companies that already have a central Florida presence. Others mentioned as possibilities include Washington Mutual Inc. of Seattle, which has operations in southern Florida, and BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., which has long been talking about entering the state.
But Florida banking companies are not big enough to buy the branches, said John Balkind, an analyst with Fox-Pitt, Kelton Inc. in New York. I dont think any of them are going to take a hard look, he said.
Analysts say this is because Huntington hopes to sell the branches as a bloc or in two groups, in deals that no Florida bank or thrift company could afford. The largest based in the state is BankUnited, of Coral Gables, with $4.7 billion of assets.
A Huntington spokeswoman confirmed that her company plans to sell the branches as a complete set but would consider selling them in eastern and western portions, and that it hopes to have a buyer by the end of August.
The Florida banking companies that have been briefly mentioned by the states newspapers as possible buyers are Republic Bancshares Inc. in St. Petersburg and FNB Corp. in Naples.
William R. Klich, the president and chief executive officer of $2.5 billion-asset Republic, downplayed its interest in the branches. He said that the once-floundering Republic does not have the means to buy even half of them, especially as it continues to focus on restructuring.
FNB has branches in one of Huntingtons markets and recently moved its headquarters from Hermitage, Pa., to expand in Florida. But Gary Tice, the president of the $3.8 billion-asset company, said it is not interested in the branches, because Huntington has made it clear it that is not interested in breaking them up.
Huntington is unlikely to take all the time to convert its branches to 10 to 15 banks, Mr. Tice said. I think, from a back-room operations and efficiency perspective, they wouldnt break it up.
One midsize company that might have a chance is $11.2 billion-asset First Citizens Bancshares of Raleigh, N.C., which owns $742 million-asset Atlantic State Bank in Fort Myers. A spokeswoman for First Citizens said it is always evaluating opportunities to grow but would not discuss specific possibilities.
Kenneth Thomas, a banking consultant in Miami, said that since Huntington is selling its branches without prompting from regulators, community banks are unlikely to pick up scattered branches, as they did in the FleetBoston Financial Corp. divestiture a year ago.
In the Fleet/Bank Boston branches, community banks could put pressure on the regulators to sell pieces, Mr. Thomas said. But this is going to be one clean-cut sale.
Mr. Tice said he is not worried about which bank might enter central Florida or expand there. We were able to compete favorably with Huntington[s branches] and will be able to compete effectively against anyone that will acquire them, he said.