Two activist shareholders have increased their stakes in troubled Republic Bancshares of St. Petersburg, Fla.

George P. Bauer and Harrison I. Stearns said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week that they had bought 289,400 shares of Republic since July, bringing their combined stake to 636,000 shares, or 6% of the company. In the filing, the two investors said they may meet with management to discuss "performance, strategic direction ... as well as various ways of maximizing stockholder value."

It has been a long 12 months for Republic, a $2.5 billion-asset company with branches throughout Florida. The company was on its way to a banner year in 1998 until early in the fourth quarter, when secondary-market demand for its mortgage loans abruptly dried up. Republic lost $21 million in the fourth quarter and $12.7 million for the year.

It has since shuttered its once-thriving Flagship Mortgage subsidiary. In July its board announced that it had sought the advice of an investment banker and had decided to remain independent.

Republic earned $3 million in the second quarter of this year, its second consecutive profitable quarter. An attorney for the investors did not return calls.

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