OceanFirst looks to grow in Monmouth
Oct 20, 2012 (Menafn - Asbury Park Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --OceanFirst Financial Corp. said Friday it plans to open a branch in Red Bank next spring, deepening its presence in Monmouth County.
The decision to open the branch at 73 Broad St. was spurred in part by an improving economic climate, said John Garbarino, OceanFirst's chairman and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement.
Toms River-based OceanFirst is the biggest bank headquartered in Ocean County. It has assets of 2.3 billion and 24 branches in Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex counties. Its other Monmouth branches are in Freehold, Spring Lake Heights and Wall.
The company previously has tried to expand in Monmouth County, most notably by seeking to acquire Ocean Township-based Central Jersey Bancorp. The deal, announced during the recession in 2009, never received regulatory approval. Central Jersey a few months later was sold to Kearny Financial Corp. based in Fairfield, Essex County.
The branch's opening comes amid signs of economic improvement. Bank executives weren't available for further comment. But several recent reports have shown the housing sector stabilizing four years after the financial bubble collapsed.
Matthew Breese, an analyst with Sterne Agee in Portland, Maine, said the strategy makes sense. With interest rates at record lows, banks such as OceanFirst are finding it harder to increase their profits. One option? Expand and make more loans.
Rather than acquire a bank -- an expensive proposition in high-priced New Jersey -- it apparently is building the branch on its own, Breese said.
The timing might be right. Huge banks are closing branches. And the economy is picking up, he said.
"I think management was a little more optimistic this quarter," Breese said.
OceanFirst on Thursday said its earnings were virtually flat during the third quarter in part because an increase in trust revenue, merchant service fees and checking account fees helped offset a decline in interest from loans.
OceanFirst's stock closed at 13.63 Friday at 4 p.m., down 17 cents, or 1.2 percent.
Michael L. Diamond: 732-643-4038; firstname.lastname@example.org
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