HOUSTON - Sterling Bancshares Inc. announced plans Tuesday to buy Camino Real Bancshares of Texas Inc. in San Antonio for $52 million of cash.

George Martinez, chairman of $2 billion-asset Sterling, said Camino Real's branches would be merged into Sterling about 90 days after the deal closes. Sterling, which has 26 branches in the Houston area, plans to open its first branch in Dallas later this year.

Camino, the $291 million-asset parent of Camino Real Bank, has eight offices in and around San Antonio.

"This purchase will give us a presence in three of the best markets in the country and an opportunity for significant growth," said J. Downey Bridgwater, Sterling's president.

He added that Sterling would retain Camino's management team. "Local management will continue to make local decisions," he said. "One of the key factors that attracted us to Camino Real was its strong leadership."

Sterling would finance its purchase of Camino Real by issuing $20 million to $30 million of trust-preferred securities and would pay the rest with its excess capital, Mr. Martinez said. The sale is expected to close in the first quarter.

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