Simmons First National Corp. announced a 3-for-2 stock split to finance possible acquisitions.

The split will boost the number of shares available from 3.8 million to 5.7 million, bank president Thomas May said Friday. Stock of $857 million-asset bank, which is based in Pine Bluff, Ark., closed up $1.25 Friday, to $37, and volume was five times the daily average.

"We're sitting on a lot of cash right now," Mr. May said. "We'd like to use the dollars raised by the sale for acquisition purposes."

Simmons is best known for issuing one of the least expensive credit cards in the nation. Arkansas law prohibits banks from charging credit card customers more than 500 basis points above the federal discount rate. When the card was issued nationally four years ago, demand was so intense that the bank had to halt its offer temporarily.

The bank accepts only 28% percent of its applicants, Mr. May said. Frank Anderson, an analyst at Stephens Inc., Little Rock, Ark., said delinquency rates and chargeoffs are only 1% each at the bank, far below industry averages.

"It's one of the better credit card banks in the country," Mr. Anderson said. "Credit quality is more important to them than earnings growth."

Earnings have been increasing, too, said Christopher Kelley, an analyst at Morgan Keegan & Co., Memphis. The bank reported third-quarter earnings of 79 cents per share, beating estimates by nine cents. Mr. Kelley predicts earnings will reach $2.88 per share this year and $3.15 in 1997.

Despite this rosy outlook, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Anderson agreed it won't be easy for the bank to expand, because selling prices at banks in the region have been twice book value or higher.

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