Regional bank stocks are getting a big lift today from the agreement by Hancock Holding Co.’s (Nasdaq: HBHC) to acquire another Gulf Coast bank, Whitney Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: WTNY) in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at almost $1.5 billion.

Not only are Whitney shares surging (up 30.5 percent) as of 11: 15 a.m. (EDT), but so are BancorpSouth Inc. (NYSE: BXS), up 8.5 percent; Regions Financial Corp. (NYSE: RF), up 5.1 percent; Synovus Financial Corp. (NYSE: SNV), up 1.9 percent and SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI), up 4.3 percent.

The SPDR KBW Regional Banking ETF (NYSE: KRE) has risen 3.1 percent this morning; while iShares Dow Jones US Regional Banks (NYSE: IAT) has climbed 2.2 percent.

Hancock Holding said as part of its proposed acquisition, it expects to repurchase all of Whitney's TARP preferred stock and warrants held by the U.S. Treasury at closing.