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After two-year lull, banks resume activity in market.

After two years of little to no bank branch activity in northwest Arkansas, there's suddenly some news:

* Great Southern Bank of Reed Springs, Mo., which has operated a loan production office in northwest Arkansas for several years, recently opened a full-service branch at the former Chambers Bank location in the Pinnacle Hills area of Rogers.

* Fayetteville's Signature Bank of Arkansas may be selling two of its Benton County offices to Calhoun County Bank of Hampton, pending approval from the Arkansas State Bank Department.

* Signature also plans to close at the end of the summer its Bella Vista office, which had deposits of $22.5 million as of June 30, 2009.

According to the FDIC, Great Southern Bank now has 84 offices in five states with a total of $3.69 billion in assets. First-quarter net income was $5.78 million. Signature had March 31 assets of $665.1 million, down almost 7 percent from the end of 2009, and its first-quarter net income was a loss of $3.4 million.

If the sale is approved, Calhoun County Bank will be the 31st full-service bank doing business in Benton and Washington counties, a new high for the northwest Arkansas market, which many bankers have said is already oversaturated.

As of June 30, 2009, there were 203 banking offices in the two-county area, up from 159 in 2005.

Tim Yeager, associate professor of finance at the University of Arkansas, said, "One thing that's clear is that we have plenty of competition and the competition is forcing banks to take more risks." But banks are also gun-shy, he said, and that is cutting into profits. That will likely be the case for the next couple of years, he said.
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Title Annotation:NW Journal
Author:Sparkman, Worth
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 5, 2010
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