Moving to strengthen its position in Illinois, Mercantile Bancorp. of St. Louis said Monday it would acquire Firstbank of Illinois Co., Springfield, for $697 million in stock.

In its 12th acquisition deal in three years, Mercantile is paying 21 times Firstbank's estimated 1998 earnings, or 2.8 times book value, to establish a bridge between its northern and southern Illinois operations.

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