Columbia-based SCBT completes huge deal

07/26/2013 9:31 PM

07/26/2013 10:03 PM

SCBT Financial Corp. completed the largest in-state banking merger in S.C. history Friday, acquiring Charleston’s First Financial Holdings.

The $380 million deal, announced in February, makes Columbia-based SCBT the largest publicly traded bank in the state and the sixth-largest public company in South Carolina.

“We are very pleased to be where we are today,” chief executive Robert Hill said in a conference call with investors Friday after the bank released its earnings report.

That report showed an 18 percent increase – to $12.5 million – in earnings in the second quarter, compared to the previous quarter. That is a 56 percent increase from 2012’s second quarter.

The 79-year-old bank, which has roots in Orangeburg, has snapped up half a dozen banks in the past three years. Those acquisitions have come as the worst recession in a lifetime changed the banking industry nationwide, forcing weaker banks out of business.

Some of SCBT’s early purchases were of failing banks. But recent mergers, such as the First Financial deal, have been combinations with other strong banks designed to create a larger footprint of operations.

SCBT now operates throughout most of South Carolina, as well as parts of Georgia and North Carolina. The company plans to change its name and branding as it finishes integrating the recently acquired banks next year. It then plans to build its presence in neighboring states, Hill said.

SCBT has more than 608,000 customers, nearly 150 locations and close to 2,400 employees. The combined SCBT-First Federal has roughly $8.2 billion in assets and $6.7 billion in deposits, as well as $5.9 billion in loans.

SCBT’s stock has skyrocketed 66 percent since it bought its first bank in February 2010. Its stock closed down slightly – at $54 a share – Friday.

First Financial shareholders will receive 0.4237 shares of SCBT common stock for each share of First Financial common stock that they own.

The name of the bank’s holding company will change to First Financial Holdings, but its ticker symbol on stock exchanges will remain SCBT at least until next year’s rebranding.

In Friday’s earnings call, SCBT officials said economic conditions are improving and the bank is seeing improved loan demand and deposits.

Residential construction has been a strong category in the second quarter, they said.

“You’re seeing ... the confidence level pick up,” Hill said, adding businesses are buying new equipment and expanding their lines of credit.

SCBT does not expect to buy any more banks until 2015, completing the integration of the banks it has acquired and its rebranding complete, Hill said.

First Financial’s Wayne Hall will become president of SCBT Financial, while Hill remains CEO.

Five former First Financial board members are being added to the board of directors of the combined SCBT-First Federal, the bank said, including Hall and S.C. Lottery head Paula Harper Bethea, who will be vice chairman.

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