Despite rumors that Meridian Bancorp was poised to announce merger plans, the board of the Pennsylvania-based regional emerged from its annual planning meeting Tuesday with only a general statement of its strategy.

As expected, the company's annual review included discussion of a sale. But no specific plan was adopted, said Meridian chief executive Samuel A. McCullough in a press release.

"The board intends to continue to explore all of the company's strategic alternatives and the impact of such alternatives on the company's shareholders and other stakeholders," Mr. McCullough said.

"We are making this announcement, in part, as a result of the publicity surrounding the story, which first appeared late last week in the Bloomberg News Wire Service, and resulting rumors, and will not comment on the progress of our strategic alternatives review or related board action in the future, unless legally required to do so."

The $15 billion-asset bank is high on analysts' and investors' takeover lists, particularly given the spate of deals this year in the Mid-Atlantic states.

But Michael Plodwick, a bank analyst with Deutsche Morgan Grenfel/C.J. Lawrence Inc., said he did not believe the bank would be sold anytime soon. The bank has charted an independent course, and will likely stay on it, he said.

For the last four years, the bank has presented three options at the annual board planning meeting - independence, merger of equals or a sale - so it is not surprising that the subject was discussed at the meeting this year, Mr. Plodwick said.

He pointed out that earnings are improving at the bank, and that Mr. McCullough has voiced a preference for waiting awhile before making a decision on a sale.

Were Meridian to be acquired, logical buyers would include Banc One Corp., Mellon Bank Corp., CoreStates Financial Corp., Bank of New York Co., and NationsBank Corp., he said.

Meridian would likely fetch between $44 and $50 a share, or between $2.5 billion and $2.8 billion.

Meridian closed down tktk Wednesday at $37.875.

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