Two of South Carolina’s biggest banks — including First Federal, the oldest and largest based in the Charleston region — are merging in stock swap valued at $304 million.

SCBT Financial Corp. and First Financial Holdings Inc. hope to complete the deal later this year. It has been approved by the boards of both companies.

Columbia-based SCBT is the buyer.

Shareholders of North Charleston-based First Financial will receive 0.4237 shares of SCBT common stock for each share of FFCH common stock, which equates to a deal value of $18.30 per share based on SCBT’s closing stock price of $43.18 on Feb. 19.

“We are pleased to announce that two of the Southeast’s oldest, strongest and largest banks are merging to form a dynamic banking company. Our two banks complement each other significantly and, because of our size, earnings power and strength, we will be uniquely positioned to build a premier regional bank in the Southeast,” said Robert R. Hill, Jr., president and CEO of SCBT. “This partnership benefits our customers, shareholders and employees and is a unique opportunity to join two local community banks with a similar history and culture. We have admired and respected First Financial for a long time, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to build an even stronger company together.”

Founded in 1934, First Financial operates First Federal Bank, which has 66 locations in the Carolinas and is the third-largest financial institution headquartered in South Carolina.

“For nearly 80 years, both SCBT and First Federal have consistently served the financial needs of our customers and we look forward to continuing this legacy,” said R. Wayne Hall, president and CEO of First Financial. “We will collectively continue to deliver the highest level of service, while maintaining our community banking values. Together, we will collaborate to evaluate our strengths and work to leverage the best of each of our institutions.”

The merger agreement requires approvals by both SCBT and First Financial shareholders. At closing and upon shareholder approval, the proposed holding company name will be First Financial Holdings Inc.

Under the terms of the agreement, SCBT Financial Corporation will add five First Financial board members to the combined company’s board.

First Financial CEO Hall will be named president of SCBT and Paula Harper Bethea, the current chair of First Financial, will become vice chair of the board. Hill will continue as CEO, and Robert R. Horger will be chairman of the board.

The banks will discuss the deal at 10:30 a.m.