Fleet Financial Group and BankBoston Corp. are getting ready to open bidding for the $13 billion of deposits they must divest as part of their planned merger.
Investment bankers said interest in the deposits - as well as $5 billion of assets and 270 branches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island - has reached a fever pitch.
A Fleet spokesman confirmed that materials on the proposed sales would be shipped by the end of May to banks that have expressed an interest in bidding.
Observers said that list will be quite long.
"There has been an enormous amount of interest," said John Carusone, president of Bank Analysis Center, a Hartford, Conn.-based investment bank that has been contacted by several companies for help in preparing their bids. "We're all waiting for the rules of the game."
Bank of America Corp., First Union Corp., and KeyCorp are said to be the most likely out-of-state bidders. Some analysts said Citigroup may also be interested. Spokesmen for all four banking companies declined to comment.
Analysts said the deposits would be a big win for Bank of America, since the Charlotte, N.C., company has offices coast-to-coast but no branches in New England. Bank of America chief executive officer Hugh L. McColl Jr. "has expressed an interest in being in New England," said Nancy Bush, an analyst at Ryan Beck & Co.
Mr. Carusone called Massachusetts and Connecticut "two of the most attractive economies in the nation." He said that buying deposits that are being divested because of the Fleet-BankBoston deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter, is a cost-effective way for Bank of America to enter New England.
And KeyCorp, which already has consumer and commercial finance operations in Massachusetts, has centered its retail strategy around urban hubs, analysts say.
Regional banks - including Summit Bancorp of Princeton, N.J.; Hudson United Bancorp of Mahwah, N.J.; Peoples Bank of Bridgeport, Conn.; Peoples Heritage Corp. in Portland, Maine, and Citizens Financial Group in Providence, R.I.-are also expected to bid.
Summit and Peoples Bank refused to comment on the deposit sale. Citizens did not return phone calls, while Peoples Heritage and Hudson United both said they planned to participate in the bidding.
Analysts said Citizens, which just agreed to buy Boston-based State Street Corp.'s remaining commercial and retail businesses, could be in the best position to pounce on the Massachusetts portion of the sale.
Big out-of-state banks have been the subject of a political battle brewing since the Fleet-BankBoston divestiture plans were announced.
Three options are being considered by the Department of Justice, Fleet, and BankBoston. The first, a block sale to a large out-of-state bank, would create a viable competitor to the combined Fleet Boston Corp.
The second option is selling smaller packages of deposits and branches to several banks in the region. Or the Justice Department and the banks could split the difference, selling a large block to an out-of-state bank and the remaining property to regional banks.
Analysts said the compromise is the most likely scenario.
Massachusetts politicians have campaigned hard for smaller banks. "Offering smaller blocks to smaller banks would add more choices for consumers," a spokesman for the Massachusetts governor said.