the question of how many financial institutions the Leawood, Kan., company can absorb at once.

Gold, with $1.3 billion of assets, said it would buy CountryBanc Holding Co. of Edmond, Okla.; First Business Bancshares of Kansas City, Mo.; and Linn County Bank of LaCygne, Kan., for a total of $118 million. The largest deal is the $82.7 million stock swap planned for CountryBanc, which has $530 million of assets.

The Kansas company has two other transactions pending: a $65 million deal for Denver-based Union Bancshares Ltd. and a $91 million deal for American Bancshares of Bradenton, Fla.

"We either want to move into contiguous markets, fill in areas where we're already at, or follow our customers' money to where they're moving, which in many cases has been the west coast of Florida," said Michael W. Gullion, Gold's chairman and chief executive officer.

The five deals, all scheduled to close in the first quarter, would more than double Gold's assets, to $2.8 billion. First Business has assets of $120 million, and Linn County, $53 million.

Gold's strategy is to buy banks in certain booming markets in order to position itself for strong internal growth if the pooling-of-interests accounting method ends as expected in 2001, Mr. Gullion said. Pooling is generally considered more favorable for buyers than cash or stock purchases, and many observers expect a decline in the number of mergers throughout the industry after the accounting method no longer can be used.

"We don't want to be viewed as a company that's going to run out of gas because we're thought of as someone who just grows by buying banks," Mr. Gullion said.

But the recent flurry of deals is raising eyebrows -- even for a bank that closed eight acquisitions in 1998. Daniel Cardenas, an analyst at Howe Barnes Inc. in Chicago, said cost-cutting opportunities may be limited because two of the five deals are for banks outside Gold's Kansas and Oklahoma markets.

"There's some concern as to whether they've bitten off too much," Mr. Cardenas said. However, he said he would reserve judgment until after the company held a conference call scheduled with analysts Tuesday afternoon.

Gold's stock price has taken its lumps lately, declining from a peak of $18 a share at the end of last year to $10.63 at midday Tuesday. Terms of its deal with Union Bancshares let the Denver company walk away if Gold's stock price falls below $11, and the deal for American Bancshares could be terminated if Gold's stock price slips to slightly above $10.

"We're not going to renegotiate deals to save deals," Mr. Gullion said. "We expect our stock price to rebound."

Anthony Polini, an analyst at the Advest Group Inc. in New York, said he expects all the deals to go through. He raised his 2000 earnings estimate to $1.08 per share, from $1.04, after the most recent deal announcements, and he said Gold's strong fundamentals should attract investors and boost the share price.

"We just have to wait for bank stocks to come out of the doghouse," he said, "and then people will be interested, especially in a bank expected to have strong growth."

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