Pinnacle CEO: We're still hiring

Q4 report lifts stock to highest level in nearly four years

Don't look for the playbook at Pinnacle Financial to change much in 2013.

The largest bank headquartered in Middle Tennessee has since its launch staked much of its success on the ability to recruit senior commercial bankers from larger institutions. Eighteen months ago, President and CEO Terry Turner said Pinnacle was back in the growth game and planned to hire 10 veteran lenders from area rivals. Pinnacle has topped that number since then and, speaking to analysts and investors on a conference call Wednesday, Turner said his team intends to stick to the strategy that has helped them grow to $5 billion in assets and boosted their loan book by 13 percent to $3.7 billion in 2012.

"I don't want to keep updating our hiring target," Turner said. "But it is a fair thing to say that I anticipate we'll hire a number of high-profile relationship managers in this market and in Knoxville in 2013."

Most of the talent Pinnacle has landed in the past year and a half have been bread-and-butter commercial and industrial lenders. But the hiring also have included a top mortgage producer formerly with Bank of America and, most recently, a Regions alumnus active in the music business.

A $190 million pop in loans highlighted Pinnacle's fourth-quarter earnings report, but Turner said investors shouldn't look for that growth to continue this year. There were some unusual circumstances that influenced Q4 and a quarterly growth rate of around $50 million is more appropriate, he said.

Other quick hits from Wednesday's call:

• Pinnacle's indirect lending business, mostly to auto dealers, has racked up about $50 million in loans and should double in the next 12 months, Turner said.
• Customers paid off about $94 million in loans during the quarter, down slightly from the previous three months. Turner and CFO Harold Carpenter said they expect that pace to moderate only slightly early in 2013.
• Turner downplayed the potential impact on Pinnacle of plans by some of the nation's largest banks' to make a bigger splash in Middle Tennessee. The target companies for those lenders — JPMorgan Chase was featured in a recent Wall Street Journal piece — are likely to be much larger than Pinnacle's core middle-market clients, he said.

Pinnacle's Q4 numbers and commentary from Turner and Carpenter helped lift shares of the company (Ticker: PNFP) more than 7 percent Wednesday to their highest close since April of 2009. Trading volume was almost double the daily average.