August 9, 2012

SCBT buying Savannah Bank

SCBT Financial Corp. is buying its fifth bank in less than two years.

SCBT Financial Corp. is buying its fifth bank in less than two years.

SCBT signed a merger agreement Wednesday with Savannah Bancorp to buy that bank for $67.1 million, giving the Columbia-based parent of S.C. Bank & Trust its first presence in coastal Georgia.

The Georgia company operates Savannah Bank and Bryan Bank & Trust, which together have 11 locations in South Carolina and Georgia. The two locations in South Carolina – in Beaufort and Jasper counties – likely will be merged into existing SCB&T branches, S.C. Bank and Trust president and chief executive Robert Hill said.

The remaining branches will continue to operate under the Savannah Bank name and under current CEO John Helmken, who will report to Hill.

The merger is expected to be completed by November.

The combined company will have about $5.3 billion in total assets, $4.5 billion in total deposits and $3.8 billion in total loans. The merger will give SCBT 85 branches in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

“We were likely faced in the not-too-distant future of competing with SCBT or being a part of it,” Helmken said, adding his 22-year-old bank had been looking at alternatives for the past year in a banking environment that continues to be challenging. “We kept coming back to SCBT Financial.”

The matchup will be positive for customers, employees and shareholders, Helmken predicted. The two banks have like-minded management teams and cultures that will make the merger – “beyond the altar and saying ‘I do’ – really work.”

Savannah Bank also operates Minis & Co., a registered investment adviser that dates to 1932. It will add to SCBT’s wealth-management efforts, Hill said, putting a combined $1.6 billion under the bank’s management, up from $1 billion before the deal.

“Our niche is really dealing with customers on the money-management side where personal attention is important,” Hill said. “(Adding Minis) will just give us more scale.”

The merger agreement has been approved unanimously by the board of directors of each company. Shareholders of Savannah Bancorp will receive 0.2503 shares of SCBT common stock for every share of the Georgia bank that they own.

SCBT’s stock initially dropped slightly on news of the deal but rallied to close up 11 cents on the day at $37.32 a share. Savannah Bancorp’s shares rocketed up more than 60 percent after the news of its sale, closing at $9.03 a share.

SCBT has been in growing rapidly since 2010, buying about two to three banks each year, targeting banks in the three-state region.

SCBT previously bought two failed Georgia banks – Community Bank and Trust, and Habersham Bank – in 2010 and 2011, respectively. About a year ago, SCBT bought Columbia’s failed Bank Meridian.

In December, the company acquired with Peoples Bancorporation of the Upstate in its first non-FDIC assisted transaction.

“There is no question that SCBT is the acquirer of choice in Georgia and the Carolinas,” Helmken said.

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