Tomorrow closes the longest 12 months, figuratively speaking, in the 20-plus-year history of The South Financial Group.
The company that opened 2008 with its stock at $15.67 a share now trades for less than $5. Its founder and chief executive, Mack Whittle, “retired” suddenly, but not before securing a lucrative $18 million payout. In the third quarter alone, South Financial lost $25 million, and later turned to the government for a $347 million bailout.
Today’s South Financial, parent of Carolina First Bank, is a far cry from the wheeler-dealer institution that snapped up banks across the Carolinas and Florida, and grew into the biggest S.C.-headquartered institution in history.
Although it still has more than $13 billion in assets, South Financial’s reputation and balance sheet are hurting. And after years of being bandied about as a prize takeover target for large national banks interested in moving into the Southeast, South Financial today appears to be simply holding on for dear life.
There’s no telling what the new year will hold for the company and its interim CEO, Lynn Harton, but most everybody connected to South Financial has to be happy to be turning the page on 2008.