CHICAGO -- First Bancorp of Ohio on Tuesday agreed to buy a healthy thrift in a stockswap deal valued at $51 million.

First Bancorp, an Akron-based company with $3.9 billion of assets, said it would acquire Great Northern Financial Corp., parent of a $384 million-asset thrift based in neighboring Barberton.

The bank company said the in-market transaction would bolster its presence in northeast Ohio, where it operates 140 offices.

$5 MIllion Charge Seen

Based on First Bancorp.'s midday trading value of $27 a share, the deal is worth $51 million, or 190% of Great Northern's midyear book value. Expressed another way, the bank is paying a hefty 16.3 times Great Northern's annualized earnings.

First Bancorp expects to take a $5 million after-tax restructuring charge to accommodate the thrift, raising the effective price of the deal to $56 million, or 210% of book value.

Fred Cummings, a bank analyst with Cleveland-based McDonald & Co., said potential cost-sayings make the deal attractive.

First Bancorp. is aiming for annual savings equal to 50% of Great Northern's annual operating expenses, or about $3.5 million, according to Gary Elek, the company's chief financial officer. He estimated the deal would be accretive to earnings per share in the second year after the merger closes.

Great Northern boasts solid capitalization, as well as good expense control and credit quality. However, its profits have been dented recently by its reliance on a big variable-rate mortgage portfolio, which has lost value because of steadily declining interest rates. The thrift company posted a 0.76% annualized return on assets in the first half of 1993.

First Bancorp, for its part, delivered a robust 1.46% annualized return on assets in the second quarter. Mr. Elek, the chief financial officer, said the company would actively continue to seek acquisitions.

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