Analysts don’t expect a buyer soon for Virginia Commerce Bank

Virginia Commerce Bancorp said last week that it was putting itself on the market for a possible sale, one month after paying back Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to the Treasury Department.

The Arlington-based company said it has hired New York-based financial firm Sandler O’Neill + Partners to advise it during the process. The company said it would not discuss developments in the meantime.

Analysts said the move was unexpected.

“The announcement came as a surprise, and much earlier than we would have expected,” P. Carter Bundy, an analyst for Stifel Nicolaus, said in a research note.

Others said it seemed unlikely that Virginia Commerce would be able to secure a buyer right away.

“I think it’s just a fishing exercise,” said Thomas LeTrent, a senior research associate at FBR Capital Markets. “Sure, if they get the right price, they’ll sell, but it’s going to be hard for them to get the right price.”

LeTrent added that small- and mid-size banks such as Charleston, W.V.-based United Bankshares, which has assets of $8.38 billion, may be possible contenders to buy Virginia Commerce, which has assets of $3 billion.

“It won’t be the big guys,” he said. “It’s too small for someone like a BB&T.”

On Thursday, Virginia Commerce reported a 22 percent drop in fourth-quarter profits, which fell to $4.2 million, or 12 cents a share, from $5.4 million, or 17 cents a share, a year earlier.

The bank, which was founded in 1999, has 28 branches, as well as a residential mortgage office and wealth management office.

Last month, Virginia Commerce announced that it had bought back all $71 million worth of its preferred stock from the Treasury.

“As we look forward, the strength of our capital keeps us well-positioned to meet both the financial needs of our clients and our expanding franchise,” Peter A. Converse, the bank’s chief executive, said at the time.

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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