BOSTON (AP) ¿ Shares of First Financial Bancorp on Tuesday soared for a second day on the regional bank holding company's government-assisted acquisition of banking assets from the shutdown of two Irwin Financial Corp. units.

Analysts hailed the transaction as a shareholder victory, saying it will enable First Financial to expand its footprint at a discount and boost earnings.

The deal was announced after markets closed Friday as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was appointed receiver of a pair of Irwin units, Louisville, Ky.-based Irwin Union Bank FSB and Columbus, Ind.-based Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co.

Hamilton, Ohio-based First Financial will buy essentially all the assets of the two banks, which became the 93rd and 94th failures this year of federally insured banks. The FDIC and First Financial reached a loss-share agreement covering about $2.5 billion of the two banks' combined assets.

After rising 24 percent on Monday, shares of First Financial surged another 18 percent, or $1.86, to $12.15 in midday trading Tuesday. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $5.07 to $15.

Analysts reacted positively after First Financial's management discussed details of the transaction in a conference call following Monday's market close.

Raymond James' Dennis Klaeser upgraded First Financial's stock to "Strong Buy" from "Outperform" and increased his 12-month price target to $15 from $10.

Klaeser said in a research note that the deal will add to First Financial's tangible book value by more than 40 percent. He raised his full-year 2010 earnings estimate to $1.24 per share from 68 cents, and his 2011 estimate to $1.50 per share from 87 cents.

"This is a transformational acquisition for First Financial, increasing the bank's assets by more than 70 percent and accelerating its strategic expansion into Indiana," Klaeser wrote.

R. Scott Siefers of Sandler O'Neill & Partners raised his rating to "Buy" from "Hold," calling the transaction a "game-changer" that will "substantially" improve earnings. He raised his full-year 2009 earnings estimate to 50 cents per share from 34 cents, and his 2010 estimate to 95 cents per share from 54 cents.

Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Stephen M. Moss reiterated his "Neutral" rating on the stock and maintained his 2009 and 2010 earnings estimates of 29 cents per share and 55 cents, respectively. But he raised his 12-month fair value estimate for the stock to $13 from $9, citing the transaction's potential to boost earnings and book value.

The transaction is "a major win for shareholders that significantly enhances the company's presence in Indiana with 12 additional branches," Moss wrote.
Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.