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It’s a bank-eat-bank world

By Marcie Geffner · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Posted: 2 pm ET

If your bank closed or sold some of its branches last year, you weren't alone. In fact, the total number of bank branches in the U.S. declined in 2011, after years during which the number of bank locations expanded.

Still, the drop in branch locations didn't stop some banks from expanding their reach or adding more branches in areas they already served. The difference was those goals were accomplished by acquiring, rather than opening additional locations, according to SNL Financial in Charlottesville, Va.

The company ranked the top 10 largest bank branch deals last year in three categories: branch-only deals, company mergers and the euphemistically named "government-assisted" acquisitions, which involved bank failures.

Eighty-three branch-only deals, involving 429 branches, were announced in 2011 and had been completed or were still pending as of Jan. 27. That figure was up from 78 deals, involving 183 branches, in 2010, SNL said.

The largest deal was Buffalo, N.Y.-based First Niagara Financial Group's acquisition of 195 branches from HSBC Bank USA. The HSBC parent company is based in London.

An antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice triggered First Niagara's agreement to sell off 26 branches in western New York. Subsequently, the company announced the sale of 37 branches, including the flagged 26, to KeyBank. First Niagara also sold 19 branches to Community Bank and eight branches to Five Star Bank.

The biggest merger deal in terms of bank branches was Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank's acquisition of RBC Bank USA in Raleigh, N.C., from the Royal Bank of Canada. Total: 424 branches. PNC also picked up 27 branches from Flagstar Bancorp and 19 branches from Bank Atlantic Bancorp, according to SNL.

Altogether, there were 157 bank company mergers, involving 1,631 branches, in 2011, all completed or pending as of said date.

The biggest government-assisted branch acquisition was Cadence Bancorp's purchase of Superior Bank, which involved 69 branches. Cadence, formerly known as Community Bancorp, is based in Houston. Superior is located in Birmingham, Ala.

The government-assisted category totaled 90 deals, involving 626 branches, a significant decline compared with 147 such deals, involving 1,168 branches, in 2010.

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