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North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 5:39 pm

Treasury will sell stake in Sterling Financial

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    SANTA ROSA — The U.S. Department of the Treasury on Tuesday announced the public offering of more than 5.7 million common shares in Sonoma Bank’s parent company, part of a continued effort to unload stock that it purchased to infuse capital into banks hit hard during the recession.

    Treasury priced its common stock in Sterling Financial Corporation (NASDAQ: STSA) at $20 per share, with $113.3 million in net proceeds expected from the sale, according to a Treasury release. Common shares of the company opened at $20.49 on Wednesday.

    FBR Capital Markets and Sandler O’Neill + Partners, L.P. will jointly manage the offering. Sterling has agreed to pay the expenses incurred by Treasury during the sale, which are estimated to be $940,000. The company will not profit from the sale of the Treasury securities.

    Treasury purchased 303,000 preferred shares of Sterling as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, infusing the operator of Sonoma and Sterling Bank with $303 million in capital. Those shares were converted into common stock in 2010, part a successful $730 million recapitalization effort that included millions in private investment.

    Those common shares were obtained for a discounted exchange value of approximately $75.8 million. As stock prices have risen for Sterling during the time that Treasury has held those shares, Sterling President and Chief Operating Officer Ezra Eckhardt said that the sale would result in greater recovery for Treasury.

    “In the case of Sterling, the timing is right to capitalize on those shares,” he said.

    Treasury will no longer hold any shares in Sterling after the sale, but will continue to hold warrants to purchase more than 97,500 shares of the company’s common stock. The disposition of that stock will provide additional proceeds to taxpayers, according to Treasury.

    The impact of the Treasury sale of Sterling’s common stock reflects a broader effort to wind down the federal government’s involvement in the nation’s banks.

    Individual purchases in Sterling will be limited to no more than 4.95 percent of common stock, a measure that Mr. Eckhardt noted will prevent a change in control among shareholders.

    Sterling Financial Corporation announced a 15 cent shareholder dividend in July, payable on Aug. 20 to shareholders of record as of Aug. 6.

    TARP’s bank programs have earned a profit for taxpayers, with $265 billion recovered from a $245 billion initial investment, according to the Treasury. The department began outlining its efforts to wind down its involvement in the program this May.

    Results of the sale will be reported in updated filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the sale is expected to close on on or about Aug. 20.

    This story was updated with Treasury figures released Wednesday on share pricing and projected proceeds.

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