Amro Extends Deadline For EAB Bidding AmeriCredit;J.P. Morgan Chase;Wells Fargo ABN Amro Holding NV has extended the bidding for its European American Bank unit through Wednesday, giving rise to speculation that the company has found a dark horse suitor to counter expected bids from North Fork Bancorp and FleetBoston Financial Corp.

The Dutch financial services company, which has substantial operations in the Midwest, is said to be seeking $2 billion in cash for EAB, its commercial banking operation in Uniondale, N.Y., but sources familiar with the bidding said that Amro would probably get closer to $1.3 billion.

Originally, the deadline for bids was to have been Monday. As of the middle of last week, sources said, the only companies that had shown serious interest were North Fork of Melville, N.Y., and Fleet.

The extension, which sources said was decided on by ABN Amro’s in-house investment bankers on Friday, fueled rumors that the company had found another potential bidder, one that needed more time. Dime Bancorp and Royal Bank of Scotland’s unit Citizens Financial Group Inc. of Providence, R.I., also got materials on EAB and were mentioned Monday as the possible last-minute bidders, the sources said.

ABN Amro is coordinating the bidding with the help of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

A company spokesman in the Netherlands declined to comment. Spokesmen for Fleet, North Fork, Dime, and Citizens also would not comment.

Bids by other often-mentioned companies seem less likely, observers said.

HSBC USA bought Republic New York Corp. in late 1999 and has indicated a preference to integrate the company before buying another. Likewise, M&T Bank Corp. of Buffalo bought Keystone Financial Corp. in Pennsylvania last year and said that the deal would keep it out of the merger game for a while. Charter One Corp. of Cleveland, which recently turned its focus to expanding in the Midwest, announced a $241 million cash deal for Alliance Bancorp in suburban Chicago last week.

ABN Amro’s U.S. operations include Chicago’s LaSalle Bank and Standard Federal in Troy, Mich. But it has been beefing up its U.S. presence through acquisitions. It is said to be desperate for cash to fund its planned purchase of Michigan Federal Corp. in Farmington Hills, a deal that was announced in November. ABN Amro is also reportedly close to announcing a deal for the U.S. investment banking operations of ING Barings.

European American Bank has $11 billion of deposits and 96 branches, 13 of them in highly coveted Manhattan. Its business mix is tilted in favor of taking in commercial deposits and lending to middle-market companies in the New York metropolitan area. Analysts said EAB would make a good fit with either North Fork or Fleet, both of which have expressed a desire to boost their middle-market commercial presence in New York City.

One potential downside for an acquirer is European American’s $3.5 billion leasing portfolio, which adds leverage to its balance sheet, a source familiar with the bidding said.

A decision from Dime to enter the EAB sweepstakes would be another chapter in its rivalry with North Fork. The two companies have frequently butted heads in recent years over bidding for smaller thrifts in the New York market, and Dime has frequently won.

The competition reached a fever pitch last March when North Fork made a $1.9 billion hostile bid for Dime. North Fork won the support of Fleet, which agreed to put up $250 million in exchange for the chance to buy choice branches if the deal went through.

The unsolicited bid was enough to break up Dime’s planned merger with Hudson United Bancorp of Mahway, N.J.

Dime refused to capitulate, though. In July it made a deal with Warburg Pincus Equity Partners, which invested $238 million in Dime. As part of that agreement, Anthony Terracciano, a former senior executive at First Union Corp. and former chief executive of New Jersey’s First Fidelity Bancorp, joined Dime as chairman.

North Fork dropped its bid for Dime in September.

Sources said they expect the bidding for European American Bank to be complete by mid-February and the winner to be announced by the end of the month.

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