* Stephens Inc. analyst Tyler Stafford downgraded High Point, N.C.-based BNC Bancorp to "equal-weight" from "overweight," with a price target of $36. The analyst updated his investment rating for the company after Pinnacle Financial Partners Inc. announced its acquisition of BNC Bancorp. Stafford also noted that BNC Bancorp's stock price has increased 11% year-to-date compared to a 1% decrease in the bank index over the same time period. Meanwhile, the analyst has suspended his earnings estimates for 2017 and 2018 for BNC Bancorp.
* Raymond James analyst Michael Rose lowered his rating for Pine Bluff, Ark.-based Simmons First National Corp. to "underperform" from "market perform," following the company's announcement that it would acquire Fort Worth, Texas-based First Texas BHC Inc. The analyst noted that the deal carries attractive metrics on paper. However, Simmons First has announced three acquisitions since November, which are now posing an "execution risk." Rose thinks investors should not underestimate this risk. Simmons First announced its acquisition of Southwest Bancorp Inc. in December and of Hardeman County Investment Co. Inc. in November.
* Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP analyst Stephen Scouten upgraded Nashville, Tenn.-based Pinnacle Financial Partners to "buy" from "hold" and increased his price target to $76 from $72. The analyst updated his investment rating for the company based on Pinnacle Financial's announced acquisition of BNC Bancorp and higher expected earnings. The analyst is not expecting the company to be active on the M&A front in 2017, but he thinks it has high growth potential and upside through revenue synergies. The analyst also thinks the company will possibly return to the M&A scene in 2018 and beyond.
* Sandler O'Neill analyst Brad Milsaps upgraded Stillwater, Okla.-based Southwest Bancorp to "hold" from "sell" to align his investment rating with the firm's recent rating on Southwest Bancorp's merger partner Simmons First National. Sandler O'Neill analyst Scouten upgraded Simmons First to "hold" from "sell" following its fourth-quarter earnings result. Milsaps added that Southwest Bancorp exceeded his and the Street's expectations for the company's fourth-quarter 2016 EPS.
* Compass Point Research & Trading LLC analyst Laurie Havener Hunsicker upgraded Richmond, Va.-based Union Bankshares Corp. to "buy" from "sell" and increased her price target for the company to $39 from $30. The analyst raised her rating two notches to "utilize a discounted [2018 estimated] EPS figure that now reflects estimated tax relief." In addition, following the outperformance in the stock market, the analyst thinks the company will now be attractively valued on the M&A front, considering its asset size. However, Hunsicker does not think the company is a seller in the near term. Rather, she thinks the company might be looking for an acquisition because of its recent stock price strength, its recently closed subordinated debt offering and the company's past comments of seeing itself as a $13 billion to $15 billion bank by the end of 2018.
* J.J.B. Hilliard W.L. Lyons LLC analyst Andrew Stapp upgraded Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp to "neutral" from "underperform" and increased his price target to $26 from $25. The analyst is positive about the company's most recent earnings release, and noted that a lower loan loss provision helped the company beat expectations.