Magazine article American Banker

First Charter: If We MakeDeal, We'll Be the Buyer

Magazine article American Banker

First Charter: If We MakeDeal, We'll Be the Buyer

Article excerpt

First Charter Corp., pegged by many on Wall Street as a candidate to be bought out, is talking about buying rather than selling.

Lawrence Kimbrough, the $4.2 billion-asset company's president and chief executive officer, said that its hometown of Charlotte, along with Raleigh and Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., are the "most attractive areas" for First Charter but that it would consider bank acquisitions in other markets.

"The main thing that we would like to see is growth," Mr. Kimbrough said in a telephone interview Thursday.

First Charter has 54 branches in North Carolina and a small mortgage operation in Virginia. It has not acquired a bank since buying the $775 million-asset Carolina First Bancshares Inc. of Lincolnton, N.C., for $260 million in April 2000. On Dec. 1 it bought Smith & Associates Insurance Services Inc., a property/casualty agency in Charlotte. Smith & Associates, which specializes in middle-market commercial insurance, will become part of First Charter's insurance subsidiary.

On the flip side, as Charlotte's fourth-biggest banking company by deposit market share (behind Wachovia Corp., Bank of America Corp., and BB&T Corp.) First Charter is considered a choice takeover target.

Kevin Fitzsimmons, an analyst with Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, downgraded First Charter's shares from "hold" to "sell" Thursday, citing a 9% runup in the stock in the previous eight days.

Mr. Kimbrough, who declined to say whether he had been approached by prospective buyers, said, "If you've got to have a downgrade, that's the best reason to have a downgrade. …

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