Hanmi Financial Corp. (HAFC - Get Report) , the Los Angeles, Calif.-based Korean-American bank, has good reason to feel snubbed after larger peer BBCN Bancorp (BBCN) said Dec. 7 it would buy Wilshire Bancorp (WIBC) rather than Hanmi.
But there are still options for one of America's largest Korean-American-focused banks, according to D.A. Davidson & Co. analyst Gary P. Tenner, who said Hanmi is in a good position to make an acquisition of either another Korean bank or a more mainstream bank.
The next largest Korean-American bank after BBCN, Wilshire and Hanmi is Los Angeles, Calif.-based Pacific City Financial (PFCF) with $1 billion in assets, Tenner said. Tenner did not comment directly on whether or not Pacific City could be a good fit for Hanmi. Although there are several more Korean-American banks in the U.S., they are significantly smaller than Pacific City and may not be attractive. Hanmi has over $4 billion in assets.
Hanmi, which made an unsolicited $1.6 billion proposal to acquire Los Angeles-peer BBCN on Nov. 23, saw its hopes of a deal shattered when BBCN said it had sealed a $1 billion acquisition of Wilshire.
Hanmi issued a statement following BBCN's announcement, saying the bank found it "surprising that BBCN would have signed a definitive agreement with Wilshire" given that Hanmi made a "superior, premium proposal" to combine "with BBCN in an all-stock transaction at an implied purchase price of $19.98 per BBCN share," said Hanmi Chairman Joseph K. Rho.
Rho said it is "even more disappointing" BBCN and its advisers did not engage the company in any discussions before announcing a deal with Wilshire. Hanmi "will continue to evaluate the proposed BBCN and Wilshire transaction as details become available and, in light of that, its own proposal to combine with BBCN," Rho added.
From BBCN's perspective, the transaction made sense, D.A. Davidson's Tenner said. There is a cultural fit between the two banks and the combination was financially compelling. That is not to say a deal with Hanmi would not have made sense -- both Wilshire and Hanmi are a good fit for BBCN, Tenner said.
The only real difference between Wilshire and Hanmi is that Hanmi's strategy has moved towards growing into markets outside of its traditional Korean-American banking model, Tenner explained. Hanmi has been vocal about its interest in expanding its operations outside of the Korean demographic and doing more mainstream deals, he continued. This strategy varies from Wilshire's and BBCN's strategy, which is very much focused on a specialty demographic.
Prior to joining Hanmi as president and CEO in 2013, Chong Guk Kum served as president and CEO of First California Financial Group since 2007. First California does not serve a specific customer base and is considered a mainstream bank, Tenner said.
Tenner said BBCN likely went ahead with the Wilshire deal because the bank had already been in talks with Wilshire at the time when Hanmi made its unsolicited proposal. "Never say never," Tenner said, but it is very doubtful that BBCN will abandon the deal with Wilshire to consider a deal with Hanmi, even if the financial terms of a deal with Hanmi may seem more attractive. There was a split in opinion at BBCN's board level regarding which bank to merge with, but it seems both BBCN and Wilshire are "committed to the transaction" and the deal will get done, Tenner added.
BBCN is the result of a merger between Korean-American banks Center Bank and Nara Bank. There are many banks in the U.S. that serve the needs of specific ethnic groups, as BBCN does. Among them are also Chinese-American banks such as Pasadena, Calif.-based East West Bancorp (EWBC - Get Report) and Los Angeles, Calif.-based Cathay General Bancorp (CATY - Get Report) , both of which have grown through acquisitions of other Chinese-American institutions.
It is highly unlikely ethnically focused banks will acquire banks that serve different ethnic groups from their own unless they are mainstream, American banks. These niche banks have made their name serving specific groups, offering banking services in their respective languages. A bank would need to completely overhaul its customer service operations to serve individuals of different ethnicities, therefore such a deal would not make sense.The acquisition announcement from BBCN came just two weeks after Hanmi, the third-largest bank dominating the Korean-American bank market, went public with a $1.6 billion offer to merge with BBCN. Hanmi said it proposed the deal "after unsuccessful efforts over the last several months to engage privately with BBCN."
Hanmi has 49 branches in California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia. The company most recently acquired Garland, Texas-based Central Bancorp Inc. for $50 million in 2013. BBCN had also been interested in acquiring Central but was outbid by Hanmi.
BBCN and Wilshire did not return calls for comment. Hanmi declined to comment beyond the press release.