Fleet Financial Group confirmed Thursday that it plans to buy Columbia Management Co. and said it would suspend its share buyback program to help pay for the deal.

Fleet said it would pay $400 million in cash and another $200 million over the next six years for Columbia, an investment management firm in Portland, Ore., that had 1996 revenues of $96 million and managed more than $22 billion of assets.

Fleet shares fell 6 cents, to $65.75, as some investors concluded that the deal made a takeover of the Boston banking company less likely.

Tom Lefebvre, a portfolio manager at Phoenix Duff & Phelps, said other banks have been acquired after their own acquisitions went poorly. He said many investors had concluded that Fleet was a target after its acquisitions of Shawmut National Corp. and Natwest USA foundered. "Now that looks less likely," he said.

On June 30 the bank had repurchased 11.9 million of the 20 million shares it had planned to buy from investors under a program initiated in January. The company also plans to issue debt to help pay for acquiring Columbia.

Buybacks are popular with equity investors because they help boost or at least maintain earnings per share. But Fitch Investors Service, affirming its ratings on Fleet's debt, noted that suspending the buyback would help the company maintain its capital levels.

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