Stock repurchase programs are all the rage in banking these days, because they provide a way for companies to deploy excess capital for the benefit of shareholders. But sometimes the announced buybacks can be less than they appear.

The board of First Union Corp. said Tuesday that it had renewed its existing authorization to repurchase as many as 15 million shares of the company's common stock. First Union, the nation's sixth-largest bank, repurchased 20 million shares last year and currently has 280 million shares outstanding.

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