Line starts here to buy Metro Bank — if it’s for sale

Who wants to buy a bank with $2.8 billion in assets?

A lot of people, probably.

Let’s be clear: No one is saying Metro Bancorp Inc., the Swatara Township-based bank holding company for Metro Bank, is for sale. That includes Metro, which decided not to comment on the recent movement by activist shareholders imploring the company to merge with a larger bank.

But as long as it’s out there, why not throw out a list of possible buyers? For the record, banks don’t comment on mergers and acquisition rumors or speculation. When I reached out to most of the banks on this list — and a few more — they all told me they wouldn’t comment.

With that out of the way, here are five possibilities based on nothing other than my gut, with arguments for and against possible interest:

National Penn Bancshares Inc.

Yes, they would buy: On an expansion binge, having recently agreed to buy 3rd Fed Bank outside Philadelphia after failing to close a deal to buy First Mariner Bank in Maryland. Lots of available capital, and the bank’s higher-ups say National Penn will continue expanding. It moved to a new regional headquarters in Lancaster County in 2012, but it has no branches west or north of that. In talking to a couple well-connected people this week, “Nat Penn” were the first words out of their mouths when it came to who might be interested in Metro. I’d go so far as to say it may not be coincidence that at the same time National Penn talks expansion, Metro’s big investors (non-specifically about any bank) talk merger.

No, they wouldn’t: The 3rd Fed deal will keep it busy for a while, though National Penn President and CEO Scott Fainor has said the bank will continue expansion if there is a good deal.

PNC Financial Services Inc.

Yes: Has somewhat of a vested interest in Metro since BlackRock Inc., a global asset manager and a subsidiary of PNC Financial, has a 6.73 percent ownership stake in Metro, according to the bank’s recent proxy statement.

No: PNC Bank is about merging branches these days, not acquiring new ones. Metro is too valuable (and too expensive) to have a bank buy it then close all the branches just to eliminate a competitor. If this was five years ago, PNC likely would have been the clear leader.

F.N.B. Corp.

Yes: First National Bank has been active in its recent midstate expansion, building a new regional headquarters in Harrisburg in 2013. You’d have to imagine it would be interested in Metro as an immediate way to grow in the region.

No: F.N.B. seems pretty focused on growing its Maryland presence right now, making some acquisitions south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the last few years. That includes finalizing a deal to buy BCSB Bancorp Inc. earlier this year.

M&T Bank Corp.

Yes: It’s already the market share leader by deposits in York County, and acquiring Metro would move M&T past Wells Fargo in Dauphin County and PNC in Cumberland County, according to figures from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Banks care about these things. Very much.

No: After everything it’s gone through — and is still going through — with its acquisition of Hudson City Bancorp Inc., the bank might be soured or burned out on expansion for the time being.

Republic First Bancorp Inc.

Yes: Take two! The two banks already tried to merge from 2008 to early 2010, but couldn’t get by the regulatory red tape. Vernon W. Hill II, who founded former Metro sister bank Commerce Bank, works with Philadelphia-area Republic First.

No: Republic First is actually smaller than Metro, and there is a big gap in the geography between Philly and Exeter in Berks County, the farthest east Metro reaches.

Michael Sadowski

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