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M&T still waiting for green light to return to acquisitions

M&T Bank Corp. is still awaiting a green light from federal regulators that would allow the bank to get back into making acquisitions.

M&T's chief financial officer, Darren J. King, said Monday he hopes the Buffalo-based bank receives that approval by year's end, but no one knows for certain when word might come.

Since 2013, M&T has had a "letter of agreement" with federal regulators that bars the bank from making additional deals for now. That letter will be lifted once regulators decide they are satisfied with M&T's work – such as the bank's review of the risk profile of its customers – to strengthen its anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act programs.

"We've done all of our work, we've completed all the parts of the written agreement," King said in a conference call Monday, after the bank released its first-quarter earnings.

Regulators, King said, are looking to see what they think of that assessment.

"We have no reason to believe that they won't agree with that assessment," said King, noting that Federal Reserve officials in both New York City and Washington, D.C., need to complete their review.

"It's really a process where there's no time commitment offered by the regulatory agency," he said. "I'm certainly hopeful that it will be before the end of the year. That's kind of my outside guess, and I'm optimistic that it will come sooner."

At last year's annual shareholders meeting in April, M&T Chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers said he was hopeful the letter of agreement issue could be resolved "in the next year or so." In late 2015, M&T completed a deal, for New Jersey-based Hudson City Bancorp, that was in the works before the letter of agreement took effect.

M&T reported a 17 percent increase in net income in the first quarter from a year ago, to $349 million.

King said he felt good about M&T's approved loan pipeline, but the bank is "just waiting for people wanting the money and commit to putting it to work. That's where things aren't quite where we thought that might be at this point."

Customers seem to remain optimistic, but they are taking a "wait and see approach" to issues the Trump administration can influence, King said. "They're just waiting, I think, for a little more certainty about which direction the administration is going to go," in areas such as health care, minimum wage, overtime benefits and tax reform.


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