ALAN SAYRE

NEW ORLEANS (AP) â¿¿ The recent deal for Mississippi-based Hancock Holding Co. to acquire Gulf Coast rival Whitney Holding Corp. foretells how the post-meltdown future of the banking industry may play out.

Analysts are forecasting more combinations of regional banking players. One of the architects of the $1.5 billion Hancock-Whitney marriage sees community banks playing a bigger role â¿¿ and likely executing mergers between themselves to provide more lending clout.

And banking centers themselves are changing.

Whitney will be the last of the classic Louisiana headquartered banks that once included such names as First Commerce Corp., Hibernia Corp. and Premier Bancorp. First Commerce and Premier were swept up in the megabank acquisition craze of the 1990s. Capital One Financial Corp. bought Hibernia in 2005.

Hancock bought another pair of Louisiana headquartered banks â¿¿ American Security Bank and American Bank of Baton Rouge â¿¿ as it widened its reach in the '90s. Whitney pulled off more than two dozen other acquisitions from the 1980s to 2008 to spread across the Gulf Coast â¿¿ only to become bogged down in the Florida loan debacle.

After Whitney loses its separate identity, the big dog on the block in Louisiana appears to be Lafayette-based Iberiabank Corp., which has a smaller, but feisty rival in its back yard, MidSouth Bancorp Inc.

More combinations in the South are inevitable, banking analyst Michael Rose of Raymond James said recently, with Hancock-Whitney likely pointing the way to a new era of mergers and acquisitions following big loan problems in the region and new federal capital requirements.

"It's going to force more to the altar," Rose said.

Iberiabank has been expanding throughout the post-meltdown, taking over three failed banks in Florida and one in Alabama with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. agreeing to share in any resulting loan losses. Hancock took over another failed Florida banking company.

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