Buttressing its position as Louisiana's largest bank, First Commerce Corp. said Wednesday that it would acquire First Acadiana National Bancshares.

First Commerce, based in New Orleans, signed a letter of intent to buy the Opelousas-based bank for $32.7 million, or 1.8 times book value. First Acadiana operates 11 branches in south-central Lousiana and has $216 million in assets.

Buyer's Shares Decline

"It kind of cements First Commerce's position as the largest Louisiana bank in market share," said Peter W. Tuz, a bank analyst with Morgan Keegan Inc., Memphis.

First Commerce shares were changing hands at $37, down 62.5 cents, in afternoon trading.

With $6 billion in assets, First Commerce controls 13.3% of Louisiana bank and thrift deposits. Hibernia Corp., also based in New Orleans, is runner-up, with $4.7 billion in assets and a 10. 5% market share.

Analysts said the deal indicates merger-and-acquisition activity in Louisiana may be heating up after several years of quiescence. Consolidation was halted by severe loan problems at all the major banks in the state except for First Commerce.

Attention is currently focused on New Orleans-based Oak Tree Savings Bank, a $1.7 billion-asset thrift that the government plans to auction later this year. Privately held Alerion Bank, with $348 million of assets, is also reportedly on the block and engaged in discussions with Premier Bancorp in Baton Rouge.

"We have talked to them and we're open to further discussions," said R. Neil Williams, Premier's chief financial officer. "But there's nothing of a definitive nature imminent on that. As far as I know [Alerion] is pursuing other alternatives as well."

A spokesman for New Orleans-based Alerion could not be reached for comment.

Completion of the First Acadiana purchase is expected to take place by yearend, after approval from regulators and Acadiana shareholders, First Commerce said.

It plans to merge the bank into its Lafayette-based subsidiary, First National Bank of Lafayette, which has $436 million of assets.

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