The board of First California Financial Group Inc. took heat from shareholders for rejecting an acquisition offer earlier this year. But it seems holding out paid off.

The Westlake Village bank holding company agreed last week to sell itself to PacWest Bancorp for $231 million, or $8 a share – a 10 percent increase from PacWest’s offer in May.

The price also represented a 19 percent premium over First California’s share price when the deal was announced, sending its stock surging. Shares closed Nov. 7 at $7.60, up nearly 13 percent for the week, making it one of the top gainers on the LABJ Stock Index. (See page 36.)

Century City’s PacWest, which has closed two other acquisitions this year, had been after First California for a while. PacWest began exploring a possible deal last year and this May publicly disclosed that it had offered to buy First California for $7.25 a share, but the offer was “summarily rejected.”

Several large First California shareholders, including Castine Capital Management in Boston and Loeb Capital Management in New York, criticized the bank for rejecting the offer. In response, First California’s board announced in August that it had hired advisers to explore strategic options, including a possible sale.

Brian Klock, an analyst with New York’s Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc., said several other banks expressed interest in acquiring the institution, including L.A.’s City National Corp. and an unnamed out-of-state bank, though it is unclear which banks actually made offers.

PacWest did not return calls requesting comment. First California declined to comment.

While PacWest ultimately paid a higher price for First California, Klock said it is still a good deal because it gives PacWest greater scale and will be accretive to earnings very quickly.

“It was an acquisition that had a lot of drama behind it, but I think it’s one of those rare acquisitions where both the buyer and seller are benefiting,” he said.

The deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter, gives PacWest pro forma assets of $7.5 billion and 81 branches across California. The holding company’s subsidiary, Pacific Western Bank, will become the fourth largest bank headquartered in Los Angeles County.

But the bank might not be done yet. Klock noted that PacWest has made about two dozen small acquisitions since 2000.

“By next year, I think they’ll be looking for another acquisition,” he said. “One of the things, in my opinion, that PacWest is very good at is acquisitions.”


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