Chittenden Corp. to buy Wolfeboro bank

Vermont-based Chittenden Corporation’s announced $124 million acquisition of Community Bank & Trust in Wolfeboro will solidify the position of Chittenden subsidiary Ocean National Bank as the fifth-largest bank in New Hampshire.

The merger also would mean the loss of one more locally owned state-charted bank. Ocean National has a federal charter.

“I feel kind of sad,” said Electra Alessio, editor of the Carriage Town News, a customer and shareholder. Community Bank & Trust, she said, “is community banking at its best. I’m not surprised — I knew it would happen eventually, but I was hoping we have a few more years of community banking left.”

The deal also apparently will mean some cutbacks and possible branch closings. The initial perspective materials estimated that the merger would save about a quarter of Community Bank & Trust expenses. And an accompanying map shows overlapping branches in Hampton, Kingston and Plaistow.

CBT President Peter Alden said that no branch closings have been discussed, but they haven’t been ruled either. But possible savings was just one factor behind the merger.

“I think that in this business cycle there is increased margin pressure and increased regulatory costs,” Alden told NHBR Daily. “It was time to look and see what options were out there, and this was a very, very good fit for us.”

Alden said he has been impressed by Chittenden and Ocean National’s customer service and their ability to bring new products to the table.

The new Ocean National will have more than $2 billion in assets, with 33 branches in New Hampshire, placing it behind Bank of America, Citizens Bank, Sovereign Bank and TD Banknorth in size.

CBT shareholders will be able to get 1.129 shares of Chittenden stock, or $33.37 in cash. (Chittenden expects to pay 75 percent in stock and 25 percent in cash) That figure is about a 26 percent increase in the price of CBT stock before the merger.

CBT shareholders are expected to vote on the merger in the next few months. The deal is expected to close in the fall.

Chittenden has had a history of purchasing community banks. It acquired then Maine-based Ocean National in 2002, though at the time it barely got a majority of Ocean National shareholders to go along with the deal. Chittenden added to Ocean Nation’s New Hampshire footprint the following year when it bought Granite Bank. Last week it completed the acquisition of Merrill Merchants Bancshares, headquartered in Bangor, Maine, for $458 million.

The CBT purchase would mean that Chittenden would have 23 percent of its assets in New Hampshire, compared to 9 percent in 2002.

After the acquisition, the company will have $7.57 billion in assets and some $6.2 billion in deposits with a book value per share of $16.41. – BOB SANDERS

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