Feds approve Hancock-Whitney deal

The Federal Reserve has approved the long-awaited merger of Whitney Bank with Mississippi-based Hancock Bank, bringing the official acquisition date of June 5 closer to fruition.

Hancock announced in December that it was acquiring Whitney, Louisiana’s largest bank, in a $1.5 billion stock deal that shareholders from both banks approved April 29 and the Federal Reserve approved Friday, according to Associated Press business writer Alan Sayre.

Sayre writes on The Houston Chronicle’s website that the new combination will have to sell Whitney’s seven branches in the Biloxi-Gulfport market, as well as $155.4 million in deposits and one office in Bogalusa.

The deal has been widely publicized, particularly after filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that Whitney had been in negotiations with another rival bank for more than three months before Hancock swooped in for the acquisition. The rival bank was later confirmed to be IberiaBank.

Other challenges include a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Whitney’s shareholders and a claim from a New York watchdog group that Hancock has a poor record of minority lending. — Heather Miller

LHC Group’s earnings fall 34% on Medicare cuts

Medicare’s 5.2 percent cut in reimbursement rates for home health providers like Lafayette-based LHC Group (Nasdaq:LHCG) is being blamed for the company’s 34 percent drop in first quarter profit.

For the three months ending March 31, the company earned $7.7 million, or 42 cents per share, compared with $11.7 million, or 64 cents per share in the first quarter of 2010. Net service revenue for the first quarter of 2011 increased to $161.8 million compared with $145.2 million for the same period in 2010.

“I am very proud of our team for their outstanding performance in the first quarter, as we adapted to a 5.2 percent reimbursement cut and prepared for the face-to-face requirements and the new therapy rules that went into effect on April 1,” CEO Keith G. Myers said in announcing the results. “In spite of the reimbursement and regulatory challenges we faced in the quarter, we continued to improve quality outcomes and gain market share, as evidenced by our double digit organic admissions growth.”

The home health and hospice company also reaffirmed its guidance for fiscal year 2011 of net revenue in the range of $660 million to $670 million and fully diluted earnings per share in the range of $2.15 to $2.25. This guidance does not take into account the impact of any potential future acquisitions or share repurchases, de novo locations or reimbursement changes. — Leslie Turk

Big Oil earns big money in 1st Q

The spike in oil prices is hitting consumers and putting the Obama administration in the hot seat, but it’s been good for the oil industry.

The world’s six largest publicly traded oil companies enjoyed a combined $38.1 billion profitability windfall in first quarter. Of the big players, only BP’s earnings declined slightly from the first quarter last year.

The boon stems from a spike in the price of oil, which jumped 17 percent during this earnings period, and is now $113 a barrel; gasoline prices now average $3.89 per gallon nationally. The world’s largest publicly traded company, Exxon earned almost $11 billion in the first quarter and noted that higher oil prices boosted profits 69 percent from a year ago. It was Exxon’s best since earning a record $14.83 billion in the third quarter of 2008, when oil prices also surged.
Exxon was quick to point out that it has little control over the price of oil.

In BP’s case, higher oil prices were offset by asset sales resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill last year. The company’s $5.48 billion in earnings is down only slightly from $5.6 billion in the first quarter last year. Among oil companies reporting first quarter earnings this week were:

•Royal Dutch Shell PLC, $8.78 billion, up 60 percent from a year ago.
•ConocoPhillips, $3 billion, up 44 percent
•Occidental Petroleum Corp., $1.55 billion, up 46 percent
•Chevron Corp., $6.2 billion, 36 percent
— LT

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ABiz Stock Watch
o Home Bancorp 22.31 ▲0.11 (0.50%)
o Frank's International 19.48 ▼0.33 (-1.67%)
o IberiaBank Corp 67.24 ▼0.76 (-1.12%)
o LHC Group 23.97 ▼0.03 (-0.13%)
o MidSouth Bancorp 19.14 ▼0.01 (-0.05%)
o Petroquest Energy 5.96 ▲0.07 (1.19%)
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o Twitter Inc. 50.83 ▲1.45 (2.94%)
o Gannett 32.45 ▲0.35 (1.09%)
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