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Hancock Holding might pay less for merger with Whitney

GULFPORT — Hancock Holding Corp. says it’s on track to spend less than previously projected to wrap up its merger with the former Whitney National Bank, with profit rising in the fourth quarter.

The parent of Hancock Bank and Whitney Bank said it earned $19 million in 2011’s fourth quarter, up from $17 million in the year-ago quarter.

Those 2010 numbers are from before the merger. Setting aside merger expenses, Hancock said it made $45.1 million, or 53 cents a share in the fourth quarter, level with its $45.2 million profit in 2011’s third quarter.

On that basis, analysts surveyed by FactSet had predicted per-share profit of 54 cents.

Hancock said it has spent $87 million on the merger so far, including $40 million in the fourth quarter, but expects to spend less than $125 million originally projected. The bank said it achieved $21 million in merger-related savings in the fourth quarter, and is on track to meet its annual savings target of $134 million by the start of 2013.

Hancock said it plans to merge it and Whitney’s systems on March 16.

The company said that its total loan book grew in the quarter, with new customers using trust, treasury management, international and specialty finance services. Those kinds of services had been specialties of Whitney, which historically focused on business customers. Hancock traditionally focused more on lending to individuals.

Hancock set aside $11.5 million to cover future loan losses in the fourth quarter, up from $9.3 million in the third quarter. The company said it also collected $17.7 million from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to cover losses associated with the former Peoples First Community Bank, which Hancock took over in 2009 when the Florida institution failed.

Hancock, based in Gulfport, is the largest bank based in the state, with $19.8 billion in assets. It operates under the Whitney name in Louisiana and Texas and under the Hancock name in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

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