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Data: FactSet; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

M&T Bank today became the latest to glom on to the "bigger is better" mentality swarming regional banks.

Why it matters: It adds to the parade of regional lenders — which have taken an active role in distributing PPP loans — swallowing each other in an effort to survive a more treacherous backdrop.

  • Net interest margin — a key way banks make money — collectively hit an all-time low for U.S. banks last year. The culprits: low interest rates and sluggish lending.
  • There's also growing competition from big players, like JPMorgan and Bank of America, that are bulking up in additional states and offering more digital banking options.

Details: M&T is buying People's United Financial for $7.6 billion in an all-stock deal.

  • The combined bank would have roughly $200 billion in assets, per the release. That catapults M&T to the fifth-largest regional bank by this measure, according to FactSet. (Previously, it was the 10th).
  • Yes, but: Even with the tie-up, M&T won't crack the top 10 biggest banks overall by assets.

The big picture: Today's action follows PNC Financial's purchase of BBVA's U.S. branches last year, which — if approved — would create the largest regional lender in the U.S.

  • Another: Huntington announced it would buy regional peer TCF Financial late last year, giving them combined assets of roughly $170 billion.

What they're saying: Part of the thinking is you can consolidate then grow that way, says Stephen Biggar, a banking analyst at research firm Argus Research.

What to watch: The regional tie-ups are among the first bank deals that will face regulatory scrutiny in the Biden era.

  • Executives expect the deal will close in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Go deeper

7 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Cuomo: "I am not going to resign"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for acting in a way that made women feel "uncomfortable," but insisted that he has "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he will not resign.

Driving the news: Cuomo reiterated in his first public appearance since sexual harassment allegations surfaced that he will fully cooperate with a team of independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, but suggested that demands for his resignation from were simply "politics."

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