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Florida banks remain popular target in 2020, but COVID-19 fallout quashes deal

Four Florida bank deals have been announced this year, including three in January. The Sunshine State has been the second-most popular target in the country after Tennessee's six deal announcements in 2020 to date.

Last year, 15 Florida bank deals were announced that are either pending or completed, including six transactions with a credit union buyer.

On Jan. 27, Columbia, S.C.-based South State Corp. and Winter Haven, Fla.-based CenterState Bank Corp. announced a $3.26 billion merger of equals marking both Florida's largest deal of 2020 and the largest deal in the U.S. for the year. At the end of 2019, South State was the largest South Carolina-headquartered bank in the country, while CenterState was Florida's second-largest traditional bank.

Two separate transactions, one in 2019 and one in 2020, involving the purchase of Fort Walton Beach-based First City Bank of Florida, have since been terminated.

Another Fort Walton Beach-based lender, Beach Community Bank, announced that it would acquire First City Bank on Jan. 15, but called off the deal in late March due to the ongoing economic uncertainty spurred by the global COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of 2019, First City Bank was one of only seven operating banks in the country considered undercapitalized according to regulatory definitions.

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Profitability trends were mixed at Florida's community banks under $10 billion in assets in the final quarter of 2019 as the state's median return on average assets surpassed both the Southeast and national medians, but the state's median net interest margin came up short.

Meanwhile, loans grew by a median 5.8% year over year at Florida community banks, easily surpassing the Southeast median of 4.7% and the U.S. median of 4.0%.

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Coral Gables-based Amerant Bank NA, Florida's largest community bank by assets, again underperformed its in-state peers as it continued a multiyear restructuring following its spinout from Venezuela's Mercantil Servicios Financieros CA. Loans and deposits both fell year over year. In November 2019, Amerant completed its acquisition of Cayman Islands-based Mercantil Bank and Trust Ltd. (Cayman).

Like many banks around the country, Amerant is changing its branch hours to help contain the spread of COVID-19. According to the company's website, branch drive-thru hours are shortened to 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and branch lobbies are open by appointment only.

Stuart-based Seacoast National Bank, Florida's second-largest community bank, posted better profitability and loan growth than both the state and national community bank medians in the fourth quarter of 2019.

On Jan. 23, Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida announced that it would acquire St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Fourth Street Banking Co. for $63.6 million, marking its sixth whole-bank deal announced since the beginning of 2017. On March 13, Seacoast's acquisition of West Palm Beach-based First Bank of the Palm Beaches closed.

Like Amerant, Seacoast is currently limiting its bank branches to drive-thru only and lobby access by appointment.

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Shares in Florida's publicly traded banks slipped in the first quarter as investors digested the economic fallout from the worldwide pandemic. However, all five of the state's major exchange-traded community banks under $10 billion in assets — Amerant Bancorp Inc., Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida, Tallahassee-based Capital City Bank Group Inc., Ft. Lauderdale-based OptimumBank Holdings Inc. and Coral Gables-based Professional Holding Corp. — beat the SNL U.S. Bank and Thrift index's 40.2% loss in the first quarter. OptimumBank and Professional Holding Corp. also beat the S&P 500's 19.6% loss.

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Florida, like most of the nation, saw more bank branch closures than openings in the first quarter to March 27. During that time, 26 bank branches were closed in the state, while only 14 were opened.

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Click here for an Excel spreadsheet containing results for all Florida community banks in the fourth quarter of 2019.