25 February 2020
BB&T will buy SunTrust Banks for about US$28 billion in stock. Photo: Bloomberg
BB&T will buy SunTrust Banks for about US$28 billion in stock. Photo: Bloomberg

BB&T to buy SunTrust in biggest US bank deal in a decade

US regional lender BB&T Corp. said it will buy rival SunTrust Banks Inc. for about US$28 billion in stock in the biggest bank merger since the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Reuters reports.

The banks hope to close the deal later this year. The timetable would have been improbable before the administration of President Donald Trump began easing crisis-era regulations, which had restricted expansion and boosted scrutiny of banks. 

The merger will pressure other regional banks to consider their own deals, analysts said.

“The BB&T/SunTrust merger will open more eyes on the potential for more sizeable bank M&A to occur,” Jefferies analyst Ken Usdin wrote in a client note.

Bank of America Corp. chief executive Brian Moynihan this year predicted a new wave of big bank mergers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Not everybody was pleased about the deal. 

“This proposed merger between SunTrust and BB&T is a direct consequence of the deregulatory agenda that Trump and Congressional Republicans have advanced,” said Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee.

“The proposed merger raises many questions and deserves serious scrutiny from banking regulators, Congress and the public to determine its impact and whether it would create a public benefit for consumers.”

BB&T and SunTrust said on Thursday the combined bank would produce annual cost savings of around US$1.6 billion by 2022. In a CNBC interview, executives said the merger would allow them to invest more heavily in new technology demanded by customers.

“The business has been changing and will be changing,” SunTrust Chief Executive William Rogers said. “This gives us the opportunity to be absolutely the most competitive bank.”

The combined company will operate under a new name and have around US$442 billion in assets, US$301 billion in loans and US$324 billion in deposits. It will rival US Bancorp, which has about US$467 billion in assets.

Its footprint will cover the US East Coast, with new corporate headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The combined company will retain operations in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia, the home markets for both companies.

The two banks have long been considered natural partners and advisers said they do not expect another bank to make a bid. Hostile takeovers are rare in the banking world. 

‘Powerful company’

The banks struck the deal from a position of strength, analysts said. Each reported strong fourth-quarter earnings last month and there were no signs of pressure near to mid-term, said Terry McEvoy, managing director at Stephens.

“The end result of the transaction is a very powerful company in some of the best markets in the United States,” he said.

Analysts largely expect regulators to approve the deal, although it is expected to draw scrutiny from vocal bank critics like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as from the Democratic-controlled House.

“These are both very clean banks. So ultimately, [it] should get done,” said Stephen Scouten, analyst at brokerage Sandler O’Neill.

The combined company will remain comfortably under the asset threshold that would make it a systematically important financial institution, sparing it increased regulatory scrutiny.

Shares of Atlanta-based SunTrust jumped 8.3 percent to US$63.62, above the acquisition price, while BB&T rose 2.4 percent to US$49.71.

McEvoy said he expects the market’s positive reaction to the deal to drive similar transactions throughout the year. Regional bank stocks, including KeyCorp, Comerica Inc. and Regions Financial rallied on Thursday.

Super-regional banks, which typically have between US$50 billion and US$500 billion in assets, have been grappling with how to grow with fewer resources than the four largest US banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America.

The talks between the two banks began in 2018, according to advisers. Even though BB&T shareholders will end up with a majority of shares, a key point for SunTrust was that the deal would treat the banks as equals.

The two banks have hundreds of branches within two miles of each other, but they serve different segments of the market. SunTrust has more of a commercial focus and larger clients, while BB&T has a substantial insurance business.

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