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Southside Bancshares CEO: M&A a consideration but will be a challenge

CEO SamDawson said April 29 that the expansion of the franchise through acquisitionsis still a consideration, but acknowledged that M&A will be a challengeuntil stock valuations return to more normal levels and price expectations aremore realistic.

"Ourprimary initiatives focus on growing the bank organically by expanding ourdeposit relationship with our customers and continuing our efforts to grow theloan portfolio," Dawson said during a conference call to discussfirst-quarter results, according to a transcript. "The first-quarter loangrowth fell short of expectations, but our target remains 8% to 10% for theyear. Considering the health of our markets and the bank's financial position,2016 could be an exceptional year," he added.

Dawson saidthat the Tyler, Texas-based company's exposure to the oil and related servicesis minimal.

"Forus fortunately, the markets where we operate have not been negatively impactedby the price of oil and they are continuing to experience job growth,population growth and a demand for new homes. In addition, the supply of homesin all three markets is at historic lows and home prices continue to escalate,especially in our North Texas market. Presently, there is no sign of aneconomic slowdown," the chief executive said.

The companyreported net incomeof $13.5 million, or 54 cents per share, for the first quarter, compared to$9.4 million, or 37 cents per share, for the year-ago period.

During thefirst quarter, Southside Bancshares repurchased about 443,000 common shares atan average price of $23.00.

The companysaid that 16 employees accepted the early retirement package it offered in lateDecember 2015, and it recorded a one-time expense of about $2.1 million duringthe first quarter.