Another Philly-area bank sold to New Yorkers

VIST Financial, based in Wyomissing, says it's agreed to be bought by Tompkins Financial Corp., Ithaca, N.Y., for $86 million, or $12.50 per share. That's almost double the stock's recent trading price, but only about half what it was worth before the banking crisis of the late 2000s.

VIST is at least the third Philadelphia-area bank to be swallowed by an upstate New York bank recently. Other deals include Harleysville National's 2010 acquisition by First Niagara and Wilmington Trust's takeover by M&T Bank last year. Both were been followed by staff cuts. But Tompkins says it will continue to operate VIST as a local bank under president and chief executive Robert D. Davis (name corrected)

What's with all the New York-to-Pa. mergers? There's "geographic arbitrage" between banks in the Philadelphia area and other East Coast centers, where fallen real estate prices and borrower losses continue to drain bank capital, and upstate New York, where prices didn't inflate so much and banks are stronger, Joseph Harenza, boss at Griffin Financial Group, King of Prussia, told bank investors in a report last week. "We introduced (VIST) to Tompkins," he said..

VIST's 21 branches include 10 in Philadelphia and its suburbs, most with less than $50 million in deposits, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. List here. VIST, which combined the former Leesport Bank, Madison Bank, Allegiance Bank, Philadelphia Financial Mortgage and other firms, has $1.2 billion in deposits and $960 million in loans; it holds well under 1% of the Philadelphia-area banking market, according to the FDIC.

Tompkins is almost three times as large. VIST fits with "Tompkins' long-term growth strategy" in the "attractive" Philadelphia-area market, Tompkins chief executive Stephen S. Romaine said in a statement.The company owns Tompkins Trust and Bank of Castille in central New York State, also Mahopac National Bank in New York's north suburbs. Both Tompkins and VIST also sell insurance and investments.

VIST has been profitable in recent quarters but makes less than it did before the crash. Small banks as a group are struggling to recover from loan losses and have been unable to boost loan prices or attract depositors in the face of record-low Federal Reserve interest rates and weak demand from over-extended consumers, local developers and small businesses.

Who will get paid from this deal? Major VIST owners include Emerald Advisers Inc. of Lancaster, whose clients include Pennsylvania state pension funds; Banc Funds Co. of Chicago; Atlanta investor Robert Delroy Carl 3d; Lititz Mutual Insurance Co.; Berkshire Securities of Reading; Logan Capital Management of Philadelphia; Vanguard Group and other mutual funds; and Davis and other VIST executives.