CoreStates Financial Corp., which had originally planned to close or sell 115 branches as a result of its Meridian Bancorp acquisition, now says it will close only 89 - in addition to the 11 Meridian branches being sold to satisfy regulators' antitrust concerns.

Fifteen branches originally slated to be closed will remain open and within the bank's network.

Once the branches - all in Pennsylvania and New Jersey - are divested, CoreStates will have a total of 550 in those two states and Delaware.

CoreStates officials said the fact fewer branches are to be closed would not affect its original estimates of cost savings.

The office closings, together with a 10% cut in staffing - 1,900 positions - should amount to $124 million in expense savings, said Dean Witter analyst Anthony Davis.

But Mr. Davis said he estimates CoreStates will spend $10 million to $20 million in direct mail and marketing this year in an effort to retain Meridian customers. That will offset the merger-related savings a bit, he said.

Mr. Davis said he also is cautiously watching the bank's overall cost cutting. "The fact they closed this (merger) 75 days early (on April 9), I would think we'd see bigger cost savings than we've seen."

Of the 89 branches slated for closing - 67 in Pennsylvania and 22 in New Jersey - 55 were originally owned by Meridian.

Philadelphia-based CoreStates, with $44 billion in assets, said the majority of the closing will be completed by the third quarter. The rest will close by next January.

The closings will be the last related to the merger with Reading, Pa.- based Meridian, the company said.

CoreStates determined branch closings based on a number of factors - including profitability, overlap with other branches, geographic and business strategies, systems capabilities, and age of the buildings - according to company spokeswoman Linda Stryker. Nearly all the offices closed were within a mile of another CoreStates office, she added.

In early April, Meridian announced it planned to sell 11 branches to a suburban Philadelphia thrift to satisfy antitrust concerns raised by the U.S. Justice Department and the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.

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