Barnett Banks Inc. is telling investors that it will reap more savings from its merger with First Florida Banks Inc. than originally estimated.

At an investors conference last week, chief financial officer Charles W. Newman said Barnett will save $80 million in 1983, up from $66 million estimated at the time of the merger late last year. He also raised the estimate of 1994 savings to $100 million from $87 million.

"We simply realized more savings than we were initially sure we could get," said Robert Stickler, a spokesman for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company.

Cuts Exceed Expectations

More staff has been cut than originally expected, Mr. Stickler said, and redundant branches are being sold faster than anticipated.

Barnett, which has $38 billion of assets, closed or sold 98 offices and cut 2,700 jobs from the combined company between March 1992 and March 1993. It now has 634 branches and 19,300 employees.

The rapid shedding of branches reflected "a lot of demand from banks and other kinds of retail outlets," Mr. Stickler said.

At the Bermuda investors conference, which was sponsored by Lehman, Brothers, Barnett chairman and chief executive Charles E. Rice projected that the merger-related efficiencies will lift the bank's return on assets to about 1.2% or 1.3% "by the mid-1990s."

Barnett, which produced an ROA of 0.55% for 1992, originally predicted it would reach between 0.9% and 1.0% within the next few years.

Barnett's efficiency ratio, which measures noninterest expenses as a percentage of operating revenue, is projected to fall to 65% this year from 71% in 1992, Mr. Stickler said.

News of Barnett's revised estimates, combined with lingering speculation about a takeover, drove the company's stock up by $1.50 a share Monday to $47 on heavy volume of 1.3 million shares. The rally resumed Tuesday with a 75-cent-a share rise.

Mr. Stickler declined to comment on the takeover talk. But most analysts dismissed it. "I don't see anything imminent there," said J. Frederick Meinke, with Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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