Magazine article American Banker

Wesbanco Pushing to Grow outside Home Market

Magazine article American Banker

Wesbanco Pushing to Grow outside Home Market

Article excerpt

Increasingly reluctant to have its fortunes tied to the fates of the waning steel and coal industries, Wesbanco Inc. of Wheeling, W.Va., is broadening its push beyond the state's borders.

Its $77 million deal last week for American Bancorp. of Wheeling, which has branches in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, underscored Wesbanco's desire to grow outside the state, whose economy historically has been dominated by steel and coal, as well as the natural gas and chemical industries.

Edward M. George, president and chief executive of the $2.3 billion-asset parent of Wesbanco Bank, said buying American would move his company into "booming" Columbus, Ohio, as well as Washington, Pa., two markets near West Virginia's northern panhandle.

"The economies in these areas are stronger than in Wheeling," Mr. George said. "We looked to other markets, because of the problems in the steel and coal industry."

Wesbanco's acquisition agenda also has included moves into the north-central, central, and southern parts of West Virginia, "where the growth is," Mr. George said. In December it said it would buy Freedom Bancshares of Belington, W.Va, the $100 million-asset parent of Belington Bank, which has branches in four central West Virginia counties.

Gary B. Townsend, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va., said he is encouraged by Wesbanco's attempt to move into new markets, but he warned that it may not be sufficient to sustain earnings because its banks' primary markets, including Wheeling, are in West Virginia's panhandle.

"The Wheeling market has a lot of manufacturing," Mr. Townsend said, referring to the steel companies in and around the area. "If we're looking at a recession, it's not great for these markets."

Over the years, Wesbanco has scaled back its lending to steel and manufacturing companies as production has shrunk and jobs have moved out-of-state and overseas. …

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