Valley National Bancorp Leads a Surge of Acquisitions in Florida

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The state of Florida has seen a rise in the number of bank deals in recent months, bringing the total number of bank transactions to 22 so far since the beginning of 2014, according to on industry watcher.

There is already noticeable deal activity in the state, and heightened levels should continue, said Jeff K. Davis, managing director at Mercer Capital.

Wayne, N.J.-based Valley National Bancorp (VLY) acquired Orlando, Fla.-based CNLBancshares (CNLB) for $205 million last month, the most expensive bank deal in Florida this year.

Such activity will continue as the state plays "catch-up" after several years of low deal volume, Davis said.

Deals are finally happening because "you've got sellers who may have had a near-death experience following the financial crisis," he said.

Bank boards are worn out, and now that pricing has recovered significantly from where it was three years ago, they are "willing to pull the trigger," Davis said.

Florida bank valuations were hit particularly hard, as lending there is a real estate-focused market. The property market in Florida has picked up significantly with many banks cleaning up their balance sheets and reducing their problem assets.

Such trends will continue to fuel higher valuations and acquisition interest by both in-state banks and out-of-state banks, Davis said.

There were 198 bank charters in Florida at the end of 2013, and there are just 175 now, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

However, the total number of assets in the state has increased to $165 billion from $147 billion during the same period.

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