Sovereign Bancorp of Wyomissing, Pa., was officially confirmed Tuesday as the winning bidder for 278 branches and $12 billion of deposits to be divested from the merger of Fleet Financial Group and BankBoston Corp.

The transaction would instantly create New England's third-largest bank, with $11.8 billion of assets and 700,000 consumer and corporate customers. Sovereign Bank New England, as the new Boston-based institution is to be named, would be about the size of the old BayBanks Inc., which was acquired by BankBoston in 1996.

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