U.S. migration shifts could spur M&A, de novos in northwest, southeast

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Major U.S. population shifts could spur banks to make strategic moves with long-term implications.

Several states in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast have become popular moving destinations, while scores of people have left the Northeast, Rust Belt and Appalachian coal country. Those insights come from an annual study by United Van Lines, a Fenton, Mo., firm that tracks population movements, along with the income levels and rationales of people who have relocated.

While population shifts alone will not trigger big changes in the banking sector, they do augur where a state's economy could be heading. States with an influx of people could indicate markets where businesses are growing which, by extension, could provide more lending opportunities.

The study "is more of a harbinger of economic activity," said Christopher Marinac, an analyst at FIG Partners. "Net migration trends can spill over into new households being formed or new businesses being created. It's more people buying cars, eating out. It should be good for banks, both large and small, in those areas."

The migration figures, combined with other economic factors, could force the banking industry to adapt and adjust, either through consolidation or new bank formation.

The Pacific Northwest has seen some consolidation, including the first major bank deal of 2017. That deal — Columbia Banking System's planned purchase of Pacific Continental in Eugene, Ore. — has one of the highest premiums in recent memory.

It will also create a bank with more than 150 branches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, all of which placed among the top six in United's list of largest inbound population moves. Roughly two-thirds of the population shifts in Oregon and Idaho involved people moving into the state. Nearly 60% of relocations in Washington were inbound.

New Jersey had the biggest exodus, with about 63% of moves leaving the state.

Only five banks were sold in the Pacific Northwest last year, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Industry experts have often pointed to a limited number of sizable targets in the region, which often increases the premiums demanded by those who want to sell.

Still, the region's growth should spur more consolidation, as banks from other parts of the country look to grab a piece of the action, said Stephen Klein, a lawyer at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn who has advised the $9 billion-asset Glacier Bancorp in Kalispell, Mont., on numerous deals. Seattle is seen as especially enticing.

Areas with large population increases often provide more commercial lending opportunities.

Eugene, for instance, has become an incubator for technology startups, earning the nickname the "Silicon Shire," Roger Busse, Pacific Continental's president and CEO, said during a conference call Tuesday to discuss his company's sale.

F.N.B. Corp. agreed to buy Yadkin Financial in Raleigh, N.C., because of double-digit population growth since 2010 in many North Carolina markets and access to 190,000 new commercial prospects, Vincent Delie Jr., the Pittsburgh company's president and CEO, said during a recent speech. In contrast, many of F.N.B.'s Rust Belt markets aren't growing at all, he said.

Population growth could also create demand for new banks, industry experts said.

"We definitely have room for new banks," said Linda Navarro, CEO of the Oregon Bankers Association. "Oregon currently ranks near the bottom of states in terms of the number of banks headquartered here, and we're second from the bottom when you consider population."

Rising bank stocks "and the assumed deregulation of the bank sector, if that plays out to any extent, could have an impact on investors," Klein said, making a case for more charter applications. "They may feel like banks are no longer going to be shackled."

United's results can't be relied on as the only factor for making major strategic moves.

South Dakota, for instance, had the biggest influx of new residents, with 68% of all registered moves entering the state. But the population is so small that even a moderate amount of newcomers — about 7,000 last year — can produce big statistical changes.

"That's certainly not enough for bankers to consider de novos or adding new charters," said Curt Everson, president of the South Dakota Bankers Association.

Vermont is another case in point. While the state had the second-highest inbound rate, at 67%, it doesn't seem to have enough inflow to influence bank consolidation, said Christopher D'Elia, president of the Vermont Bankers Association.

"We're a high-tax state, so individuals retiring here would be coming for quality of life reasons," D'Elia said.

Paul Davis and Jackie Stewart contributed to this article.

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