Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

South Financial Group Seeks Expansion

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

South Financial Group Seeks Expansion

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Basch, Times-Union business writer

The South Financial Group Inc., a South Carolina-based banking company, has a relatively small banking presence in Florida right now. But the company is hoping to change that.

The company owns Carolina First Bank, serving North and South Carolina, and the Mercantile Bank, which serves the Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa markets. During a conference call with analysts last week, company officials talked about growing its presence in Jacksonville, where it currently has just two branches, and its other Florida markets.

"The growth potential for us in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville markets is incredible," said South Financial President and Chief Executive Officer Mack Whittle Jr.

Mercantile Bank has about a 2 percent share of the banking business in those markets, which are dominated by Bank of America, SunTrust Bank and Wachovia Bank. But Whittle indicated his bank may be able to take away market share from the big banks.

"Now that we've got competitive corporate products and we can lend competitively with these guys, and we have folks that know those markets, we think the ability to continue to grow is great," Whittle said.

South Financial officials said in the conference call that they'd like to reach a 10 percent share in its Florida markets. It will do that by opening new branches and also seeking acquisition opportunities.

The company earlier this year acquired a 6.5 percent stake in Jacksonville-based Florida Banks Inc., which operates community banks in several Florida markets. But the company said that was done as an investment, not as part of a plan to acquire Florida Banks.

South Financial last week reported its second-quarter operating earnings rose 16 percent to 43 cents per diluted share.

FLORIDA BANKS

Florida Banks may look for acquisition opportunities of its own, President and CEO Charles Hughes Jr. said last week during the company's quarterly conference call. …

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