Virginia Commerce Said to Hire Sandler O’Neill to Explore Sale

Virginia Commerce Bancorp Inc., an Arlington-based bank that recently repaid its government bailout, is exploring a sale, said a person familiar with the matter.

The bank, which has about $3 billion in assets, hired Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP to run the sale process, said the person, who asked not to be named because the matter is private. Sandler began reaching out to potential suitors before Christmas, this person said, with first-round bids due in mid-January.

Virginia Commerce, led by Chief Executive Officer Peter Converse, rose 11 percent in New York following the Bloomberg report, the biggest jump in more than two years, giving the company a market value of about $325 million. The bank could be attractive to a handful of midsize banks interested in expanding in the Washington, D.C., region, said Paul Miller, an analyst who covers the company for FBR Capital Markets Corp.

“D.C. is valuable real estate on the banking side because you have a very stable workforce, a wealthy workforce,” Miller said. “You could see banks on the peripheral -- most are in the Pennsylvania market -- coming down.”

The stock closed at $10.55 yesterday in New York. David Franecki, a spokesman with Sandler O’Neill, declined to comment. Mark Merrill, chief financial officer of Virginia Commerce, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Potential Buyers

Eagle Bancorp Inc., Susquehanna Bancshares Inc. and Fulton Financial Corp. could show interest, FBR’s Miller said. It might be too small to solicit strong interest from BB&T Corp, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and other large banks, he said.

Representatives for those banks declined to comment or didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Virginia Commerce, founded in 1988, has 28 branches, a mortgage office and wealth management department. Its target customers are people and small businesses in northern Virginia and the Washington area.

It posted a return on average assets of 1.11 percent and ratio of non-performing asset to total assets of 1.98 percent in the third quarter of 2012. The lender said in December that it repaid $71 million to the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

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