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Home BancShares plans to be aggressive on M&A

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Home BancShares plans to be aggressive on M&A

Home BancShares Inc. executives said Jan. 19 that the bank expects to aggressively pursue deals this year following an unusually quiet 2016 for the community bank.

Speaking during the bank's 2016 fourth-quarter and full-year earnings call, Chairman John Allison said the bank was less acquisitive last year due to regulatory burden as the bank remained just under the $10 billion threshold that subjects banks to enhanced regulation. At the same time, Allison said the bank would not reach on pricing as some recent mergers have carried a high cost relative to tangible book.

"We let our foot off the accelerator on the M&A in 2016 because of Dodd-Frank but expect to be more aggressive in 2017 and 2018. However, we continue to recognize the value of a deal done by Home compared to some of the silly deals that are done in the market," Allison said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the call, an analyst referenced the merger of Columbia Banking System Inc. and Pacific Continental Corp. as representing the lofty pricing in the market at just over 3x tangible book. "They said it was accretive. I think it's accretive in 2099," Allison quipped.

As part of his opening remarks, Allison said the bank would likely not consider a deal so expensive that it would dilute shareholders. During the question-and-answer session, Allison offered a bit more nuance in response to an analyst probing whether the bank might stay on the sidelines as pricing approaches potentially frothy levels.

"No, we're going to participate," Allison said. "You're seeing 2x tangible book deals. We've never done one. You heard my opening comments about what I feel about dilution, so we've just never diluted. To say we never dilute that, I'm going to say that, but you never say never. ... We're still trading at four-plus book, so I think you'll see us active in '17 and in '18."

Allison said the bank is in talks for small and large deals, smaller than its pending acquisition of Bank of Commerce Holdings Inc., which has $209.1 million in assets, and others closer to the size of its completed purchase of Liberty Bancshares Inc., which had $2.86 billion in assets at the time of the deal.

The call had a jocular mood as management boasted about the bank's 23rd consecutive quarter of record income, and Allison promised the bank will make it 24 straight quarters after reporting 2017 first-quarter results. Allison said the bank continues to find cost savings and that achieving a 2.20% return on average assets is "not out of the question."