Large Puerto Rico bank buys UniBank
By Claudio Mendonca
First BanCorp, Puerto Rico's second-largest bank, is buying Miami-based UniBank and Ponce General Corp.
With Delaware-based Ponce General comes the company's Florida real estate holdings and some of Unibank's branches and offices. UniBank has six branches in Miami-Dade County, one in Broward and two in Orlando.
An executive with First BanCorp, which has $15.2 billion in assets, said Tuesday that the acquisition would not lead to layoffs.
"We are starting from scratch," said First BanCorp senior vice president James Partridge. "The main reason we made the purchase is because it is a well-run bank with a great infrastructure, management, operations, systems and branches."
UniBank had $471.4 million in consolidated assets, $416.3 million in deposits and $43.5 million worth of stockholders equity as of Sept. 30, according to company statements.
"This has been a very good merger," said Mr. Partridge. "Our bank is committed to growing in the South Florida market."
The acquisition will enable the bank to expand into Florida, according to a written statement by Angel Alvarez, First BanCorp's chairman and CEO.
"This acquisition allows First BanCorp to enter new markets within cities that have a significant Hispanic population," he said. "This allows BanCorp to build a platform in Florida to consider further expansion in the United States."
Part of the BanCorp's strategy for Florida is to keep up with Puerto Rican competitor Banco Popular, the largest bank on the island, he said.
"We are staying very close to Banco Popular," he said. "Our first step happened on Oct. 1, when we opened our newest branch in Coral Gables."
Banco Popular, the largest bank in Puerto Rico, recently acquired Kislak National Bank of Miami Lakes for $158 million.
First BanCorp's new Coral Gables office, 110 Merrick Way, operates as an international agency, Mr. Partridge said, and will concentrate on commercial real estate loans for income-producing properties and construction loans. It will be the bank's South Florida base.
The recently purchased UniBank branch at 1220 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables, will remain a retail bank.
The real estate arm of the bank, Ponce Realty Corp., will aggressively pursue the Miami-Dade County market, said Mr. Partridge, who said he has 21 years of experience in real estate and banking in Greater Miami.
"We want to get a chunk of the pie," said Mr. Partridge. "We are looking at all aspects of residential real estate, from construction of condos, townhouses, single-family homes."
Ponce Realty Corp. is based in Delaware, a state with a friendlier tax environment than Florida's.
First BanCorp is a state-chartered commercial bank in San Juan, PR. The bank operates 112 offices in the US and British Virgin Islands. Among its subsidiaries are Money Express, a finance company; First Leasing and Car Rental; and First Mortgage, a mortgage banking company.
International banking attorney Bowman Brown said Tuesday that the acquisitions made by BancCorp are a strong sign that Greater Miami is an important Latin American-Caribbean financial center in America.
"This is certainly a trend and makes clear for major Puerto Rican banks to be in this international marketplace," said Mr. Brown. "This is a continuation of development of international financial activity in Miami."