To continue its expansion in the Atlanta area, Georgia's Synovus Financial Corp. is buying Merit Holding Corp. for $109 million in stock. Merit, based in Tucker, has $306 million of assets and operates two banks, with six branches in suburban Atlanta. The deal is expected to close by the end of the third quarter.

The agreement calls for Columbus-based Synovus to exchange 1.0529 shares of its common stock for each Merit share. The deal would be accounted for as a pooling of interests. Synovus, which has $10.5 billion of assets, is the parent of 36 banks in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. Merit's two banks would keep their names and charters and become subsidiaries of Synovus.

James H. Blanchard, chairman of Synovus' board, said he expects the transaction to fit nicely with last year's expansion into the state's largest market. In 1998, Synovus bought three banks, all based in metropolitan Atlanta.

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