Great Florida moves to Nasdaq

Five months ago, Great Florida Bank Chief Executive and President Mehdi Ghomeshi pledged to list the company’s thinly traded stock on the Nasdaq exchange as soon as possible.

That time has arrived. Great Florida Bank will debut on the Nasdaq Global Market exchange on Wednesday under the ticker symbol GFLB, reports the Miami Herald.

Despite current turbulence in the financial markets and the housing market slump, Great Florida is moving on to the electronic board about 3 ½ years after the bank was founded. It’s one of the youngest companies to be listed.

”This is really a tremendous accomplishment for the team that we have,” said Ghomeshi, a veteran South Florida banker who was the driving force behind creating the well-capitalized bank back in 2004.

For Florida, a state where major banks have been frequently acquired by out-of-state banking companies and have disappeared from the stock exchange, the new listing is a switch.

Great Florida is one of the few Florida banks to be newly listed on Nasdaq in the past five years. It joins 14 other Florida-based banks now being traded on Nasdaq.

The Nasdaq listing will make it easier to trade the stock, allowing greater liquidity for current investors and perhaps create greater demand for the stock.

”Our ultimate goal was to provide as much liquidity as possible to our current investors,” said Gary J. Laurash, chief financial officer and treasurer.

Currently Great Florida stock is listed on the bulletin board, which is a thinly traded market that does not have electronic access and is off limits to institutional investors. The stock price has ranged from $8.80 to $14.85 over the past 52 weeks. On Friday it was $9 per share.

”It’s a major step forward,” said Leo Guzman, the president of Guzman & Co., a Coral Gables broker-dealer. “Nasdaq is a market that should appeal a lot more to the retail investors, as well as institutional investors. You have liquidity. You have quotes. It makes it a real, tradable stock.”

Great Florida was launched with a big splash of capital as investors poured in about $170 million. But the bank has hit some bumps along the way.

In November 2006, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued a cease and desist order to the bank, requiring it to take steps to implement more stringent anti-money laundering oversight. The order was one of about 20 regulator actions taken against South Florida banks.

There also has been boardroom turmoil with four directors resigning in the past 12 months, and profits have slipped because of problem loans in the construction sector as the South Florida housing market has gone from hot to stone cold.

The Nasdaq listing should provide a boost as well as a signal that the bank meets the rigorous listing requirements for the electronic stock exchange.

To mark the Wednesday debut, Ghomeshi will make a video address to the bank’s staff.

OnJan. 10, a group of senior managers and board members will travel to New York for the symbolic ringing of the Nasdaq bell.

It was the first date available, Ghomeshi said. ”We wanted to get up there as soon as possible after our listing,” he said.