After losing the bidding wars for two thrifts in central Masschusetts, Fleet Financial Group is planning to buy Sterling Bancshares, a $1 billion thrift company in Boston's affluent western suburbs.

New England's largest banking company said Monday it would pay $125 million in stock for Sterling, a Waltham-based thrift with 13 branches in Middlesex County. The price tag represents a hefty 1.87 times Sterling's book value.

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