Continuing its expansion in its hometown, Cincinnati's Provident Financial Group Inc. said Monday that it would buy rival Fidelity Financial Inc. of Ohio for about $192 million of stock.

Provident would pay nearly two times book value for $835 million- asset Fidelity, which has 17 branches in greater Cincinnati. The deal, which would boost Provident's assets to more than $9.3 billion, is the company's second intracity acquisition announced this month; on Aug. 3, it said it planned to buy OHSL Financial Corp. for $57 million.

"Fidelity Financial of Ohio is a quality institution that will allow us continued expansion of our local retail banking network and deposit base within the greater Cincinnati area," said Robert L. Hoverson, Provident's president and chief executive officer.

Provident-Fidelity Federal was the larger of two Midwest community bank deals announced in the last few business days. Late Friday, BankIllinois Financial Corp. of Champaign, Ill., said it would merge with First Decatur (Ill.) Bancshares Inc. of Decatur, Ill., in a transaction valued at $115 million.

That deal, billed as a merger of equals, would create a new holding company - Main Street Trust Inc. - with 18 branches and more than $1 billion of assets.

"The two organizations are a perfect fit," said John Luttrell, First Decatur's chairman and chief executive officer.

He said the companies "have similar values, cultures, and business philosophies" and have worked together before.

In some instances BankIllinois and First Decatur have pooled resources to make sizable loans to large local businesses that otherwise might have been forced to look to bigger banks outside central Illinois.

Despite their relative similarities, the two banking companies have virtually no geographic crossover.

BankIllinois' nine offices are primarily in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana. Most of First Decatur's nine branches are in or around Decatur, which is about 45 miles west of Champaign.

Early Monday afternoon BankIllinois was trading at $23.75 a share - - unchanged since the merger announcement. First Decatur was trading at $29.38, an increase of 1.2% since the announcement.

Because Provident's two recent deals are both within Cincinnati, some speculated that the company might be trying to build its asset base before expanding outside of southwestern Ohio.

"If they can find someone that they could afford to buy, I think they'd look to do that," said Fred Cummings, an analyst at McDonald & Co. in Cleveland.

Provident's shares were down 4.6% early Monday afternoon, at $40.69. By midday Monday, Fidelity shares had jumped $6.25 from Friday's close, to $18.56, a 51% increase.

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