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Hancock sees core margin expansion even without rate increases

While higher interest rates would offer a benefit, Hancock Holding Co. said Jan. 18 that it expects its core net interest margin to expand in the first quarter of 2017, even if rates do not move higher.

In the 2016 fourth quarter, Hancock's NIM expanded six basis points from the prior quarter to 3.26%, while the company's core net interest margin, which excludes purchase accounting adjustments, rose seven basis points to 3.19%.

Hancock expects the company's core margin to expand three to five basis points in the first quarter of 2017, absent additional rate increases by the Federal Reserve. Hancock CFO Michael Achary said on a conference call to discuss 2016 fourth-quarter results that if the Fed raised short-term rates by 25 basis points, the company's margin could increase six to eight basis points, before including the impact of its planned purchase of nine branches in the Greater New Orleans region from First NBC Bank Holding Co.

Achary added that the company is working to close its transaction with First NBC and does not have plans to acquire "anything more or anything less" than what was previously announced in the deal.

Hancock did say that it plans to eventually close 10 overlapping branches as a result of the pending First NBC transaction. The company expects to close the transaction in the first quarter of 2017 and consolidate the 10 branches after completing the conversion of systems.

In the fourth quarter, Hancock reported net income allocated to common shareholders of $50.6 million, or 64 cents per share, compared to $15.0 million, or 19 cents per share, a year earlier.

The S&P Capital IQ consensus normalized EPS estimate was 61 cents for the recent quarter.