Group's acquisition of BankBoston Corp.

The announcement, which came late in the day, helps clear the way for the $16 billion combination of Boston's two largest banking companies. The only hurdle that remains is a vote by Massachusetts banking regulators. Fleet Boston Corp. the working name for the new company would have $170 billion of assets and 20 million customers. Shareholders of each bank voted to approve the deal last month.

The Fed's approval comes less than one week after the Justice Department approved Fleet's plan to divest 306 branches and $13.2 billion of deposits in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Contingent upon those divestitures, the department said it would not block the merger on antitrust grounds. On Tuesday, Fleet said $25 billion-asset Sovereign Bancorp in Wyomissing, Pa., was the winning bidder for 278 of those branches and $12 billion of deposits.

Fleet said it planned to close the acquisition in October.

Liz Moyer

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