TOMS RIVER, NJ—(SBN)—OceanFirst Bank is acquiring Mount Laurel-based Sun Bancorp, the parent of Sun National Bank, for $487 million in cash and stock, the bank announced June 30. The current US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, owns nearly 25 percent of Sun Bancorp, based on a 2010 investment of $50 million by one of his investment vehicles.
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The acquisition appears to close the books on Sun, which started as a family-owned bank in Vineland, NJ, and expanded statewide to became a major regional presence in commercial real estate lending.
Family patriarch and Sun chairman Sidney Brown helped start the bank, and the Brown family has remained a major investor in Sun, while also tending to a growing logistics business, NFI Industries. As reported by SBN last August, NFI helped a minority owned specialty packaging company, QPSI, break ground for a 400,000 square-foot facility in an NFI industrial park in Florence Township, NJ.
“We believe the strategic value of this opportunity is based on the transaction being conservatively structured, it will increase deposit funding at a time when funding may be very important, cost saves are being driven by a high degree of market overlap, we benefit from an extended branch network closer to New York and Philadelphia, peer valuation suggests a strong opportunity to deliver value, our shareholders will continue to build liquidity, and finally our track record regarding acquisitions should provide comfort regarding the risk profile of this transaction, as well as the likelihood that we will achieve the required expense reductions,” Christopher D. Maher, chairman, president and chief executive officer of OceanFirst, told an investor conference call Friday morning.
OceanFirst is likely to move rapidly to close at least 15 Sun Bank branch in markets where they directly overlap with OceanFirst branches, and staff reductions due to back office redundancy. OceanFirst thinks it can reduce Sun’s overall costs by more than half, with nearly two-thirds of the cost savings coming in the first year of the merger, executives told an investor conference call.
The goal of the merger appears to be extending the bank’s overall ability to participate in commercial lending, mainly across the center of the state.
“We’re not interested in buying buildings or branches, we’re investing in client relationships and we’re investing in people,” Maher says. “It’s very hard to find top-quality lenders, in particular. We’ve strived in the acquisitions we’ve done to date to retain the highest level of staff that we can. We’ve retained about 75 percent of the folks that we’ve brought over in the last three deals that we did, while achieving the cost saves. We’re placing a significant reliance on the quality of the clients, the relationships, and the folks over at Sun who are handling those, and we’re going to work with them and find an organizational alignment that works for everybody, because one of the biggest values we can get out of this is extending into those relationships.”
In the call, Maher said the merged banks will change from their individual thrift charters to a national bank charter, a regulatory move that he said could delay the completion of the merger. Thomas M. O’Brien, chief executive officer, president and director of Sun Bancorp will remain in an executive role until the closing of the merger and will relinquish his executive role at that time, Maher says.
“The expansion of our commercial banking business is squarely focused on the commercial corridor from Philadelphia to New York,” says Maher. “With Sun, our presence improves nicely.”
The combined bank will have more than $7.5 billlion in total assets, and a market capitalization of about $1.3 billion.
Since a recapitalization in 2014, Sun has been moving its focus away from consumer banking and into business banking and commercial lending, primarily in commercial real estate and multifamily lending, while deemphasizing its exposure to construction and development. In 2006, the bank brought its consumer mortgage lending in house, starting mortgage subsidiary Sun Home Loans, only to shutter the operation a few years later during the financial market collapse of 2008.
Sun’s low cost of deposits, less than 40 basis points vs. competitors, may help the combined bank compete for loan business, Maher says. Sun also has 23.4 percent of its deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts, much higher than regional averages for its competitors, making its overall lower cost of funds highly valuable, Maher says.
OceanFirst has been in acquisition mode for several years, acquiring Cape Bancorp, Ocean Shore Holding Co., the parent of Ocean City Home Bank, and Colonial American Bank. Maher says OceanFirst has retained nearly 99 percent of the deposit dollars acquired in those deals. Meanwhile, the bank has downsized its core branch network from 61 to an expected 46 by mid-year 2017.
In 2010, billionaire Wilbur Ross, currently serving as Secretary of Commerce in the Trump Administration, invested $50 million in Sun Bancorp, with the Brown family and others adding another $50 million. That took Ross’s ownership of the bank to just under 25 percent. In March of this year, Ross resigned from the Sun Bancorp board after being confirmed as Commerce Secretary, but his company retained its right under the investment agreement to nominate a replacement to the board. It’s not clear whether Ross’s firm would retain the right to nominate a board member in the merged bank.
Correction, 1:50 p.m., 6/30/2017: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article described Wilbur Ross as US Secretary of Labor. He is actually Secretary of Commerce.