NationsBank Corp.'s pending acquisition of Barnett Banks Inc. would vault the Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company to No. 4 among bank mutual fund managers.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett-the state's largest bank-has about $5 billion in mutual fund assets. Adding Barnett's funds would give NationsBank a total of $32 billion under management.

That would enable NationsBank to leap over Chase Manhattan Corp. and nestle in behind crosstown rival First Union Corp. in the rankings of banks that manage mutual fund assets, according to Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J.

Mellon Bank Corp. and PNC Bank Corp. are No. 1 and No. 2 among banks that manage mutual fund assets.

In addition, the deal would let NationsBank sell its $28 billion NationsFunds through Barnett's 629 branches in Florida-one of the top markets for investment products. NationsBank currently has 475 branches in the Sunshine State.

Florida "may be the most lucrative mutual fund market they could be in," said Burton Greenwald, a mutual fund consultant in Philadelphia."The affluent retiree market offers far greater opportunity than other markets Nations historically has been in."

Indeed, about 18% of Florida's population is 65 or older, according to Regional Financial Associates, West Chester, Pa. And while only 4.5% of the nation's population lives in Florida, the state accounts for some 6.6% of the country's investment in stock mutual funds, said Mark Zandi, an economist at Regional Financial.

By comparison, Missouri-one of the states that NationsBank entered through its acquisition of Boatmen's Bancshares-accounts for only 1.9% of assets invested in stock funds, Mr. Zandi said. Two percent of Americans live in that state.

Though Barnett has a strong foothold in the rich Florida market, it has not aggressively distributed its Emerald Funds there, said Mr. Greenwald, the fund consultant. NationsBank is likely to take a more proactive approach to selling its investment products there, he added.

A spokeswoman for NationsBank declined to discuss its plans for the post-merger mutual fund business.

But industry experts predict that the larger and more diverse NationsFunds are likely to absorb the smaller Emerald Funds, which are invested in mostly money market assets. Most of Barnett's funds have posted average investment results, said Avi Nachmany, a partner at Strategic Insight, New York.

Of Barnett's 12 funds, the relatively new international fund and the equity growth fund have better than average performance, Mr. Nachmany said.

NationsFunds has more assets in long-term investments, he said, which makes the family more viable than Barnett's program.

Both Barnett and NationsBank sell their funds with no up-front sales charge, or load. Therefore, there should be little resistance by shareholders and the funds' boards of directors to merging the fund families, said Joy Montgomery, a consultant at Money Marketing Initiatives, Morristown, N.J.

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