Even as many other community banks have recoiled, Iberiabank Corp. lately has been on a growth tear — raising capital, buying four failed banks and picking up lending teams from competitors.

In the fourth quarter, Iberiabank, of Lafayette, La., increased its asset size by 50% to $9.7 billion with two failed-bank acquisitions in Florida — a state it had long eyed for expansion but where bank prices gave it pause. Those acquisitions led the company Thursday to report earnings that were well above analysts' expectations.

"Historically, we felt like Florida was overpriced and we were concerned about where you would be entering in terms of the credit cycle," said Daryl Byrd, Iberiabank's president and chief executive. "Florida is going through a cycle now, but it will end. It will become attractive again and we will have a chance to ride it. We think we are getting in at the right time."

Iberiabank reported earnings of $106 million in the fourth quarter, about 12 times higher than earnings for the same period in 2008. The increase stemmed from a $170 million pretax gain on the failed-bank acquisitions.

Iberiabank has been priming itself for growth. It raised $110 million in December 2008 and another $165 million in July 2009. Industry watchers estimated it would add $2.5 billion of assets with the capital, but it has already surpassed that mark with $3.8 billion of new assets.

In the third quarter, Iberiabank acquired the failed CapitalSouth Bank in Birmingham, Ala., which added $610 million of assets. Iberiabank was able to further expand its presence in the state with that acquisition.

In the fourth quarter, Iberiabank entered the Florida market with the acquisitions of the failed Orion Bank in Naples and the failed Century Bank in Sarasota, adding a total of $3.2 billion of assets.

The company's first failed-bank acquisition was ANB Financial in Bentonville, Ark., in May 2008.

Analysts said Iberiabank appears to be on the right track with its growth strategy.

"They are doing exactly what a bank should do that is well capitalized and has a good business model to grow counter cycle, when opportunities are the greatest," said Peyton Green, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach.

"It is evident through their organic growth," he added, "that they continue to hire people in new adjacent markets and existing markets, and with the three failed bank acquisitions, they are … taking advantage of opportunities that are out there."

Iberiabank reported so-called organic loan growth — without the acquisitions — of $59 million in the fourth quarter and $154 million in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Iberiabank has hired teams of new employees in Houston and in Mobile and Birmingham, Ala., often recruiting them away from rival banks.

"They have been very aggressive in luring away talent from competitors, especially distracted competitors," said Andy Stapp, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. "They are bringing over books of business so it isn't like they are originating new loans that they don't have relationships with. These bankers are bringing over the cream of the crop to Iberiabank and leaving weaker credits with former employers."

Analysts said the company now must focus on building a platform, incorporating the acquisitions into Iberiabank and working through $1 billion of nonperforming loans — of which $949 million were acquired with the failed banks and consequently have loss-share agreements.

Given that, Iberiabank likely will not be seeking to make further acquisitions until the second half of this year, possibly raising more capital for deals, analysts said.

"My opinion is they are going to take a breather" from acquisitions, said Matt Olney, an analyst with Stephens Inc. "It's a question we keep asking them, but it isn't clear from management. Maybe they will do another acquisition in the second quarter, but I think it is more likely in the second half of the year. What they have now is a big slug to swallow."

Byrd said Iberiabank is evaluating its capital needs and whether it will seek more deals, but said it is open to both. "We think we have good access to the capital markets," he said.

Iberiabank's capital remains strong after the acquisitions. As of Dec. 31, its tangible common equity ratio was at 7.35%. The leverage ratio was 9.9% and total risk-based capital was 13.50%.

"We are fortunate with both our credit and capital position," Byrd said.

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