Barnett Banks Inc. is often cited as a potential target of NationsBank Corp., which is anxious to expand its presence in Florida. Now a recent decision by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta may have eased a possible obstacle.

In its review of Barnett's proposed merger with Tampa-based First Florida Banks Inc., the Atlanta Fed has broadened its definition of the Tampa Bay banking market to four counties from one county. The action is expected to lessen antitrust problems for Jacksonville-based Barnett by diluting its concentration in the region.

If the Justice Department goes along, a future NationsBank bid for Barnett may have a better chance of gaining regulatory approvals.

In the meantime, NationsBank doesn't intend to sit still in Florida. While declining to name specific institutions, senior vice president Frank L. Gentry, who heads the North Carolina-based giant's strategic planning unit, said NationsBank will probably bid on several smaller institutions that are likely to be for sale soon.

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