NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Figuring out which regional banks were in line to buy failed competitors from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was a good way for investors to make money at the end of last year, but the strategy may be largely played out. Certainly it looked that way on Monday, as shares of Umpqua Holdings ( UMPQ), a Portland, Ore-based bank, dropped 3.9% on the first trading day after it bought Seattle's EvergreenBank, picking up nearly $473 million in assets and $439 million in deposits. Analysts at Sterne Agee argued in a report Monday the deal was already priced in. Umpqua's stock had run up some 35% over the past three months, more than twice the return of the KBW Regional Banking ETF ( KRE) over the same period. Other recent FDIC-assisted acquirers that have seen little or no rally in their shares following announced deals include Washington Federal ( WFSL), which is down about nine percent since buying Horizon Bank from the FDIC on Jan. 8 and Hancock Holding Co. ( HBHC), up just two percent since buying Peoples First Community Bank on Dec. 18. Columbia Banking System ( COLB), which bought Columbia River Bank from the FDIC on Friday, saw its shares open more than seven percent higher on Monday, though it finished the day just 1.2% higher. "Most of the banks that have good capital levels and been identified as potential acquirers in FDIC-assisted deals have seen their stock prices really rally over the past -- you know, call it six months -- and so now if a deal gets done its really just turning an expectation into a certainty," says Aaron James Deer, analyst at Sandler O'Neill.
That limited upside is accompanied by a potentially sharp downside, when banks that have a limited number of potential targets suddenly see hoped for-deals become less likely. That appears to be what happened with Nara Bancorp ( NARA), a Los Angeles-based bank catering to Korean American clients. Nara saw its shares surge mightily on hopes it would buy Hanmi Financial Corp ( HAFC), but Hanmi's hopes for survival now look a lot brighter. That means if investors want to get a big share price pop from an FDIC-assisted deal, they need to pick a sleeper -- a bank few believe has the capital to do an FDIC-assisted deal. That's what happened with East West Bancorp ( EWBC), shares of which have more than doubled since it bought the failed United Commercial Bank in November. Of course, those banks may end up failing and getting acquired themselves. Investors might do better to find a bank that has had a big run up on hopes it will do a deal and look to short it. Certainly the lack of potential upside in shares of acquirers of failed banks bodes ill for the FDIC. It has lately been structuring deals to allow it to benefit if shares of an acquirer rise shortly after a deal gets done. Certainly it will benefit from a few surprise deals, but it may be a bit late to the party in many cases. -- Written by Dan Freed in New York.