Out-of-state banks that would like a piece of the Florida community banking industry may find that the pie has been mostly eaten.
But there are still community banks and thrifts, some smaller than the takeover targets of just five years ago, that are drawing out-of-state interest, bank analysts said.
They include BankAtlantic Bancorp of Fort Lauderdale, Intercontinental Bank of Miami, First Palm Beach Bancorp of West Palm Beach, Citi-Bancshares of Leesburg, and Capital City Bank Group Inc. of Tallahassee.
"Most of these banks are attractive because they have a good franchise," said Samuel Beebe, vice president of Robert W. Baird & Co,, a brokerage firm in Tampa. "They don't have any terminal asset-quality problems. That's all behind them."
These are some of the largest independent community institutions in the state, with assets ranging from $400 million to $1.5 billion.
Banks and thrifts in the $300 million to $500 million range used to be too small to attract attention from bigger buyers, but now they are "on the radar screen," said Charles Harris, chief executive of Allen C. Ewing & Co., an investment banking firm in Jacksonville.
Independent commercial banks of reasonable size are scarce. In fact, seven of the state's nine largest publicly traded institutions are thrifts.
"The state's been relatively picked over," said Paula Johannsen, an analyst at Carson Medlin Co., an investment banking and research firm. "I'm sure all the banks and thrifts in Florida have had their doors knocked on at one time."
Analysts and bankers describe what has occurred in the state in the past year as "a feeding frenzy;' characterized by peer mergers among smaller institutions, in-state acquisitions by the larger banks, such as Jacksonville-based Barnett Banks Inc., and purchase agreements with out-of-state
Being acquired by a larger bank is not the route of choice for most of the chief executives interviewed.
They want to continue to build their institutions, rather than become pieces of larger ones.
"We don't have a 'for sale' sign out for the bank. There are still some very attractive little community banks in the $50 million to $250 million range that are ideal opportunities for growth," said John O'Neil, president of BankAtlantic Bancorp.
Citi-Bancshares chief executive Ken' Mullis voiced similar sentiments: "Our goal would be to acquire three or four other banks, or merge them in, so that we
could spread our operating costs over a larger customer base."
In July, Huntington Baneshares of Columbus, Ohio, announced an agreement to acquire Security National Corp., a $180 million-asset bank holding company based in Maitland, Fla.
The Security National deal, which will be completed in May when the new interstate banking regulations go into effect, will increase Huntington's presence in Florida to $430 million in assets and 13 banking offices.
It already owns a trust company, a thrift, and a regional brokerage in the Tampa area.
Huntington is establishing itself in Florida to keep its midwestern customers who are moving to the state or who have a winter home there, said bank officials.
Other out-of-state banks are drawn by the attractiveness of the state, analysts said.
"Florida still has .one of the best banking environments in the country," said Deborah Beylus, an analyst at J.W. Charles Securities Inc. in Boca Raton. "It's got a growing population, wealthy individuals, loan growth, and the local economy is doing very well. The prices are getting higher because these banks are in high demand."
Mr. Harris sees similarities between the current positioning and mergers and what occurred in 1984 when the regional reciprocsl compacts were implemented.
Since about two-thirds of the 250 remaining independent institutions are under $100 million assets, there should be an increase in mergers between them, Mr. Harris said.
"Once one or two do it, others will follow," Mr. Harris said. "Economics will overcome social issues."
Chfis Hargrove, an analyst at Professional Bank Services Inc., a Louisville financial consulting firm, agreed: "There are hundreds of banks in the $30 million to $70 million range. But it would be very costly and very diffrcult for a large bank to acquire 10 of these. No one wants to make multiple small acquisitions ."