Hudson United Bancorp of New Jersey, continuing its regional buying spree, announced two acquisition agreements Tuesday for a total price of $425 million.
In the larger of the two stock deals, Hudson United would purchase $1.7 billion-asset JeffBanks Inc. of Philadelphia for $371 million. This would mark the Mahwah, N.J., holding company's first jump across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.
"This brings us into Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania suburbs in a significant way," said Kenneth T. Neilson, the chairman and chief executive officer of $7 billion-asset Hudson United.
He said that since First Union Corp. purchased CoreStates Financial Corp., the largest banking company in Philadelphia, "JeffBanks has been able to grow loans at a rapid rate, capitalizing on a market in turmoil."
Hudson United, formerly known as Hubco Inc., also said it would pay $54 million for Southern Jersey Bancorp, a $470 million-asset company in Bridgeton, N.J.
Both deals are structured as tax-free poolings of interests. Hudson United would pay 2.6 times JeffBanks' book value and 20 times estimated 1999 earnings. Southern Jersey's premium is 1.6 times book value and 11 times projected earnings.
Hudson United has completed or announced 11 bank purchases since the beginning of 1998 and 27 in the 1990s. By the end of this year, the company will have tripled its assets since 1997, to $9.5 billion, after the two latest deals close. Hudson United would have 200 branches in four states.
Analysts praised the moves, saying Hudson United has bought itself an impressive regional franchise in a short period.
"It's the next logical step for Hudson United," said Deron Wolfe of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York. "They have made it all the way to Connecticut in the north, so why not head to Philadelphia to the south?"
Shares of Hudson United fell tk% on Tuesday, to $tk. JeffBanks was up tk% to $tk, while Southern Jersey's thinly traded shares climbed tk% to $tk.
Other analysts suggested that Hudson United might learn something from JeffBanks.
The Philadelphia company has "the best technology to attract middle- market lending in the region," said Anthony Polini of Advest Group Inc. in New York. "I would think Hudson United would try to capitalize on that, and leverage that technology to the rest of their franchise."
JeffBanks - parent of two subsidiaries, both called Jefferson Bank - operates 32 branches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Southern Jersey, parent of Farmers and Merchants National Bank, has 17 branches in three New Jersey counties.
Hudson United said it intends to combine the two targets, along with the branches it already owns in southern New Jersey, under the Jefferson Bank name. That would be a change in strategy for the company, which earlier this year adopted one name to promote its brand across three states.
Mr. Neilson said they are keeping the moniker to "capitalize on Jefferson's great reputation in Philadelphia." Mr. Wolfe said that is a wise move.
"With all the consolidation in that market, Jefferson Bank might be a name people can identify with," he said. "And I don't think the Hudson United brand would do them much good down there."
The deal is a blow to the independent banking market. Analysts said this merger- coupled with the announcement in February that Summit Bancorp of Princeton, N.J., would buy $1 billion-asset Prime Bancorp in town - leaves a hole in the market.
"Jefferson and Prime were the two largest local competitors for small and middle-market business," said Cassandra Toroian of Ryan, Beck & Co. in Livingston, N.J. "With them both gone, it creates a very large opening for someone else to step into."
Ms. Toroian said Commerce Bancorp, in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J., is a likely heir to the small-business lending throne. Commerce, with $5.6 billion of assets, opened a Philadelphia regional headquarters earlier this year and has been "positioning itself to be the next dominant player for small-business banking," she said.
The consolidation wave in Pennsylvania is far from over, Ms. Toroian said. She suggested that Commonwealth Bancorp in Malvern, Patriot Bank Corp. in Pottstown, and Progress Financial Corp. in Blue Bell could be targets. But she said none should expect the premium JeffBanks received.
"There is nothing left in southeastern Pennsylvania that can expect to get" 2.6 times book, she said. "They are all either not as large, have the wrong mix of loans, or do not have the downtown Philadelphia presence."