First Banks Inc. of St. Louis continued its sudden and unexpected expansion into Southern California with its second acquisition in three weeks there.

Late Wednesday the private bank announced it had acquired HNB Financial Group Inc., the parent of Huntington National Banks, for $11.8 million.

On October 17. First Banks purchased CCB Bancorp., which has S310 million in assets. Huntington has S95 million in assets. Both banks are m Orange County.

First Banks, which also owns banks in Missouri, Illinois. and Texas, said it expected the economy in California to turn around.

There is also a need for community banking in a state dominated by megabanks, the banks executives said in a statement.

First Banks chairman James E Dietberg said CCB and HNB would be merged. creating the largest bank headquartered in ()range County. The transactions are expected to be completed by early next year.

First Banks has $2.7 billion in assets.

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