The Federal Reserve Board gave CoreStates Financial Group permission Monday to acquire Meridian Bancorp, creating a $44 billion-asset bank with 700 branches in the Middle Atlantic region.

The Fed rejected Community Reinvestment Act protests, saying the lead banks for CoreStates and Meridian had gotten "outstanding" ratings on their most recent exams.

The Fed expressed some concern about competition in the Reading, Pa., market, where the two banks had competed head-to-head. But it noted that CoreStates has already agreed to sell 10 branches in that market to resolve the Justice Department's antitrust concerns. Also, it said that 16 other banks compete in the county.

The Justice Department dropped its antitrust objections to the deal March 11 after CoreStates agreed to sell the 10 Reading branches and an office in Lebanon, Pa.

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