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Who'll buy PA's troubled banks?

A look at merger prospects for PA's challenged lenders

Like other midsized Pennsylvania banks -- National Penn, Fulton, Susquehanna -- Harleysville National is suffering from higher costs and lower profitability. More than those others, it also suffers from not enough capital.

CEO Paul Geraghty is trying to raise more money from investors on a tight June 30 deadline from federal bank regulators. If Harleysville decides it needs a rescue -- or if the government decides this for the bank, or others like it -- who'll take over?

PNC Financial Services Group has a history of absorbing troubled Pennsylvania banks, though its hands are full with Cleveland's National City Corp. at the moment. Like PNC, Wells Fargo, Citizens, and TD already have big Philadelphia-area branch networks; the first two, at least, have problems of their own.

Bargain-hunting private-equity companies like Carlyle and Blackstone are also prowling the banking industry; local examples include Vernon Hill's investment in Metro Bank, Jay Sidhu's deal for New Century Bank and Ira Lubert's Patriot Capital, which backs Boardwalk Bank down the Shore.

And there's FNB Corp. Based all the way out in Hermitage, Pa., near Pittsburgh, FNB has 236 branches in the Pittsburgh, Erie, State College, Harrisburg and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre markets. Harleysville has 85 in the Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, and Pocono markets, pus an outpost in Reading. Together they'd cover the state, for what that's worth.

FNB showed it was interested in Philadelphia when it looked into the Willow Financial sale last year. Harleysville won that round. But FNB raised more than $100 million in new capital last week. And every dollar goes farther in today's merger market.