Dealmakers would love to see M&A activity accelerate, but for now they'll have to settle for a steady pace.
By most estimates, deal flow in 2015 will be flat compared with a year earlier, when 306 mergers were announced. Through June 30, banks agreed to 145 mergers, topping last year's midway point by one deal. Still, 2014 was considered a breakthrough year by some industry experts, with the pace of consolidation increasing 37% from 2013.
While a level of enthusiasm for M&A exists, several factors are keeping it from fully revving up.
Many of the obvious partnerships have already taken place, so it is becoming increasingly harder to find deals to move the needle. Meanwhile, given regulatory scrutiny, many midsize banks are more frequently saying that smaller deals are not worth the time and effort.
"The interest is there, but it really comes down to the underlying principles of supply and demand and the supply of sell-side banks is diminishing," said Stephen Klein, a lawyer at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn. "There are just less choices for buyers looking for significant transactions."
The juxtaposition of interest versus reality was evident at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods' recent community bank investor conference in New York.
"There aren't that many targets, because we're adamant about staying in the Dallas-Fort Worth Market," said Kevin Hanigan, chief executive of the $6.5 billion-asset LegacyTexas in Plano, adding that there "are not a lot of independent, privately-held banks" in the area.
LegacyTexas once known as ViewPoint Bank has completed two deals since converting to a bank from a credit union in 2006. It bought the $1.9 billion-asset LegacyTexas Bank in January, adopting the seller's name.
While they've considered smaller deals, other bankers said it is simply cost-prohibitive to do a transaction unless it results in significant growth.
"At one point, we would have thought it prudent" to buy a $400 million-asset bank, said Sam Dawson, chief executive at the $4.7 billion-asset Southside Bancshares in Tyler, Texas. Given the "hoops you have to jump through, I think bigger is better."
Southside, which bought the $1.4 billion-asset OmniAmerican Bancorp in December, plans to take a hiatus from acquisitions until early next year to focus on integration, Dawson said.
This year has witnessed a handful of larger deals.
F.N.B. Corp., a $16.6 billion-asset company in Pittsburgh, agreed on Tuesday to pay $474 million for the $3 billion-asset Metro Bancorp in Harrisburg, Pa. The $7.6 billion-asset United Community Banks Blairsville, Ga., announced a $241 million deal in April for the $1.2 billion-asset Palmetto Bancshares in Greenville, S.C. And the $11 billion-asset Western Alliance Bancorp in Phoenix agreed in March to pay $425 million for the $1.8 billion-asset Bridge Capital in San Jose, Calif.
Big deals get big headlines, but smaller institutions have dominated M&A activity, with roughly 85% of deals at midyear involving sellers with $500 million or less in assets.
Some executives are content to buy smaller banks because it is less of a sellers' market.
"We haven't at this point run into a whole lot of competition," said Hoppy Cole, chief executive at the $1.1 billion-asset First Bancshares in Hattiesburg, Miss. He said there are very few publicly traded companies in southern Mississippi that are keen on buying small banks.
First Bancshares has been a regular acquirer, recently agreeing to buy the $78 million-asset Bay Bank in Mobile, Ala.
A number of other factors are affecting the pace of consolidation, said Chris McGratty, an analyst at KBW, including the impact of potential interest rate hikes, the future of legislation tied to the current $50 billion-asset threshold for systemically important financial institutions higher and the normal tug-of-war on pricing.
"There is no shortage of buyers, but a lot of times it just comes down to price," McGratty said.
Other bankers view themselves as being averse to deals, at least to the degree that they will not buy just for the sake of buying.
John Patrick, chief executive at the $2.6 billion-asset First Connecticut Bancorp in Farmington told attendees at the KBW conference that he'd rather not dilute shareholder value. Instead, Patrick said he is more focused on organic growth
"I don't need a t-shirt that says 'I did an M&A deal,'" Patrick said.
Robert Barba contributed to this report.