To simplify its own pending merger with NationsBank Corp., Barnett Banks Inc. said it would sell First of America Bank Corp.'s Florida fran- chise to SouthTrust Corp. for $160 million in cash.
Barnett had just taken possession of the $1.1 billion-asset franchise Sept. 30.
But the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett said selling the 60 offices and $931 million of deposits it recently acquired to Birmingham, Ala.-based SouthTrust would lessen the many complex merger issues Barnett already faces. NationsBank agreed to acquire Barnett Aug. 29.
SouthTrust is to pay Barnett the same amount it had paid First of America Bank Corp., Kalamazoo, Mich.
"We have a lot of overlap" with NationsBank in Florida, said Jerri Franz, a Barnett spokesman. "And the unknowns of potential divestiture came into play," he said. "We felt it was in employees' and customers' best interest to give them some sort of immediate resolution."
The First of America operations are largely along Florida's West Coast in the Tampa Bay area, where both NationsBank and Barnett have extensive operations.
The deal makes SouthTrust the first southeastern competitor to benefit from the proposed NationsBank acquisition of Barnett. With large-scale divestitures expected as a result of the merger, many regional banking companies hope for opportunities to pick up attractive Florida offices.
For SouthTrust, the deal was too good to pass up.
"It just really fit our situation well," said Butch Crouch, SouthTrust spokesman. "We're really focused on placing our banking organization in high-growth markets in the Southeast. Florida is very high on our list of priorities."
SouthTrust, which has $29.8 billion of assets in seven states, already has a more than $5 billion-asset Florida organization. It was the first state the company moved into after deciding to expand outside Alabama.
Since then it has been actively making acquisitions. In June, SouthTrust bought $972 million of assets in branches on Florida's West Coast from H.F. Ahmanson & Co.
SouthTrust had the inside track on buying the First of America locations because it had expressed interest earlier this year. It had also recently worked with Barnett on a deal to swap some banking operations in Georgia and Florida.
Mr. Crouch said SouthTrust expects to close the transaction with Barnett by the end of January.
Anthony Davis, an analyst at Dillon Read, said the deal was a goodstrategic move for SouthTrust.
"It makes sense for SouthTrust," he said. "That is the part of the state they've been interested in, and it's a nice complement for what they've already got there."