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Too soon for red-state footprint to translate into BancorpSouth loans

Although BancorpSouth Inc. is located in "red states," it is too soon in the political cycle for business optimism to translate into business, executives said during the bank's fourth-quarter 2016 earnings call Jan. 26.

The bank reported fourth-quarter 2016 net income of $37.7 million, or 40 cents per share, compared to net income of $37.8 million, or 40 cents per share, a quarter ago and net income of $21.2 million, or 22 cents per share, a year ago. It reported net income of $132.7 million, or $1.41 per share, for 2016, compared to $127.5 million, or $1.33 per share, in 2015.

Management said the bank's west Tennessee, northwest Arkansas, Gulf Coast and northeast Louisana geographies reported "excellent" results, especially in leading sales efforts with deposit growth. Loan production offices in cities like Houston and Dallas also performed well.

Chairman and CEO James Rollins III said much of the bank's southeastern footprint would be "red states" on an election map and that customers are "feeling good" about the direction of the economy following the election of Donald Trump as president. Businesses in the area are beginning to discuss future expenditures and are excited about potential changes, but it is too soon for that sentiment to translate into results at the bank.

The bank is also gearing up for its Community Reinvestment Act review, conducted by the FDIC, which will begin next week. Rollins said he anticipates regulators will be onsite for between three and five weeks, but could stay longer given that the exam is not time-dependent. Bank unit BancorpSouth Bank's CRA rating was retroactively downgraded to "needs to improve" by the regulator in August 2016, following its June 2016 consent order with the U.S. Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to settle alleged violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act. Until its rating is upgraded back to "satisfactory," the bank is unlikely to receive approval from the Federal Reserve or the FDIC to complete its pending acquisitions of Ouachita Bancshares Corp. and Central Community Corp.

The chief executive said the bank has loaded "thousands" of pages of information for the review, and executives anticipate receiving communication from regulators during the first quarter with their thoughts on bank practices.

"I expect they'll be able to get in and out in a reasonable time period and make their conclusions and we're hopeful that ... those conclusions are no later than early second quarter," he said.