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2 Arkansas bank companies announce merger plans

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Home BancShares Inc. announced Tuesday it is acquiring Liberty BancShares, a deal that will create a $7.1 billion company and the second-largest bank headquartered in Arkansas.

The Conway-based parent company of Centennial Bank announced the acquisition, which it said will be finalized later this year. Liberty's shareholders will receive $250 million of Home BancShares' common stock plus $30 million in cash, the companies announced. Jonesboro-based Liberty BancShares is the parent company of Liberty Bank of Arkansas.

The two firms said the merger will be the largest in-state banking transaction in the history of Arkansas and will create the second-largest Arkansas-based banking company, behind Fayetteville-based Arvest.

"It's a win-win for both institutions," Home BancShares Chairman John Allison said at a news conference in downtown Little Rock.

Liberty Bank will merge with Centennial once the acquisition is completed.

"Very seldom do you see two organizations that go together and not have any duplication or problems with the people in it," said Wallace Fowler, chairman of Liberty. "But this is a true fit and it's a perfect fit."

Once the deal is completed, the combined company will have $7.1 billion in assets, $5.6 billion in deposits, $4.5 billion in loans, 151 branches and 1,500 employees in Arkansas, Florida and southern Alabama. The acquisition doubles the number of Arkansas branches for Centennial bank from 46 to 92 locations.

Gov. Mike Beebe praised the chairmen of both companies at the announcement and said the acquisition added to the strength of the state's banking industry.

"Both these guys have that same kind of Arkansas entrepreneurial spirit we talk about all the time," Beebe said.

The combined company will overtake First Security Bank of Searcy as the second-largest Arkansas-based banking company, based on assets.

Randy Sims, Home's chief executive officer, said Centennial Bank's strength is in central and north central Arkansas while Liberty has a presence in the northeast, northwest and western portions of the state. The two banks only overlap in Morrilton and Searcy.

"The association of Liberty with Centennial is the perfect fit to provide more convenient locations to our Arkansas customers," Sims said in a statement released by the company.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo