Since it opened for business in late 2006, American Momentum Bank in Tampa has been sitting on much of the record-setting $100 million of capital it raised.
Buying opportunities have been scarce, and with Florida's economy steadily weakening, many of the loan deals it reviewed appeared too risky.
But now the $225 million-asset unit of Adam Bank Group Inc. seems ready to pounce. It has struck a deal to acquire a Texas shell charter it intends to use as a platform for expansion in that state, and its president says it is scouting its home state for acquisitions.
On the lending side, robust capital ratios and strong asset quality are helping it win customers from competitors that are more focused on cleaning up problem loans than booking new ones, according to Sam Davis, American Momentum's president and chief operating officer,
"Some very good customers are getting squeezed out" of their banks, Mr. Davis said in an interview this week. "We are getting calls from those customers almost on a daily basis."
When American Momentum was founded by a group led by the Texas banker Donald Adam, its stated plan was to grow organically in Florida's major markets, with a goal of having $600 million of assets within three years. Acquisitions were not part of the strategy then because asking prices on Florida banks at the time were too high, Mr. Davis said.
Now, he said, deals are on the table, because prices are coming down as even strong banks find it harder to raise capital. American Momentum still has much of the capital it raised when it was founded its total risk-based capital-to-assets ratio was a gaudy 77.26% at Sept. 30 and Mr. Davis said it has access to more. It could buy a bank with up to $2 billion of assets, he said.
"What we are noticing is even the good institutions, or the ones that are better and not troubled, are having a very challenging time to raise capital to meet growth objectives," he said. "That is where we have a distinct advantage."
American Momentum has yet to turn a profit, in part because it has been busy adding branches in and around the Tampa area, as well as in Naples and Orlando. It now has eight in six Florida counties.
One thing it can tout to potential sellers is its asset quality. As of Sept. 30 it had no chargeoffs and no loans past due, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. By contrast, the average ratio of noncurrent loans to total loans for Florida banks was 4.47%, while the national average was 2.31%.
Finding suitable acquisition targets in Florida might not be easy, however. Mr. Davis made it clear that American Momentum has no interest in acquiring banks with loan problems, which are plentiful in Florida, and industry watchers said competition for healthy banks there is intense.
American Momentum has also turned its attention to Texas. It plans to open a branch in College Station, Mr. Adam's hometown, in February.
"We were designed to be a bank that was going to realize expansion into all the major markets in Florida," Mr. Davis said. "Texas wasn't part of our original application, but it was a prudent move to consider, given our expertise in the Texas market."
Mr. Adam, American Momentum's chairman, is well known in Texas banking. He founded the $3.5 billion-asset First American Bank in Bryan and sold it to Citigroup Inc. in 2005. His noncompete agreement ran out in the spring, and American Momentum started a loan production office in Dallas in September.
"We do have high expectations on the Texas market, based on the positive things we are seeing in the Texas economy," Mr. Davis said. "For the short term, the Texas economy is faring better than the Florida economy, and that is one of the reasons we chose to move into Texas."
Industry watchers said Mr. Adam's return to Texas banking is well timed. The bank with the top deposit share in the College Station market, First National Bank of Bryan, was folded into Prosperity Bank of Houston last month, when regulators seized the Bryan bank's parent, Franklin Bank of Houston.
Dan Bass, the managing director of the Houston office of Carson Medlin Co., said Mr. Adam "has great name recognition" in Texas, particularly in College Station. "In that market, he should be able to clean up. When transactions happen, it is an opportunity for others to come in and take advantage of it."