North Fork Bancorp. and FleetBoston Financial Corp. are preparing bids for ABN Amro Holding NV’s European American Bank, a Uniondale, N.Y., company that could fetch about $1.3 billion, sources said.

Bids are due Monday, the sources said, and North Fork and Fleet are seen as the only companies to have interest so far.

ABN Amro, the Dutch financial services company, is said to be desperate for cash to fund its $2.75 billion deal to buy Michigan National Corp., announced in November. In addition, the company is reportedly close to agreeing on a deal for the U.S. investment banking operations of ING Barings.

Spokesmen for ABN Amro, North Fork, and Fleet declined to comment.

ABN Amro, which is conducting the bidding with the help of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., wants $2 billion for European American, the sources said. However, leverage on the bank’s balance sheet, including about $3.5 billion in leases, is expected to keep bids lower, in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion, according to a source familiar with the bidding.

European American Bank has $11 billion of deposits and 96 branches in the New York metropolitan market, mostly on Long Island. It has 29 branches in New York City, 13 of them in Manhattan. Bankers said the company has expertise in commercial lending as well as gathering commercial deposits.

Analysts said European American would be a logical fit for Melville, N.Y.-based North Fork, which has made no secret of its desire to expand in the New York area — particularly in Manhattan, where it has been opening branches for the past year.

The companies have significant overlap on Long Island. Well known for its cost-cutting, North Fork would be able to reap substantial savings from a combination, analysts said.

North Fork chairman John Adam Kanas said last March that he wanted to “dramatically grow” the company’s commercial banking business in the city by taking advantage of a vacuum in small-business and middle-market lending that was created from mergers initiated by Citigroup Inc. and by what was then Chase Manhattan Corp.

Mr. Kanas initiated a $1.9 billion hostile takeover of rival Dime Bancorp, securing the support of Fleet, no less. Fleet agreed to put up $250 million to help North Fork’s chances in exchange for the option to buy choice branches after the deal closed.

North Fork and Dime sparred for most of the summer, and Mr. Kanas withdrew his bid in September. An inveterate dealmaker who has built North Fork through acquisition since the early 1990s, Mr. Kanas has been quiet ever since.

Fleet has been actively pursuing growth in the New York market. It is finalizing the $7 billion purchase of Princeton, N.J.-based Summit Bancorp, announced in October. And Fleet has made no secret of its intention to build its branch network as well as its middle-market and small-business lending in the New York region.

The price for European American may be easier for Fleet to swallow. “That’s small change,” said Nancy Bush, an analyst at Prudential Securities.

Other area banking companies are seen as less likely to bid. HSBC USA, for example, bought Republic National Corp. last year and has said it wants to complete that integration before taking on new deals. Likewise, M&T Bank Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y., is absorbing its $1 billion deal for Pennsylvania’s Keystone Financial Corp., which executives said would keep it out of the merger game for at least a year.

It appears that ABN Amro wants to concentrate its U.S. commercial banking operations in the Midwest, where it already has a sizeable presence. In addition to its deal for $11.6 billion-asset Michigan National Corp., ABN Amro’s holdings include LaSalle Bank in Chicago and Standard Federal in Troy, Mich.

Standard Federal would merge with Michigan National to become second in market share in Michigan.

European American Bank’s competitors in New York said that it makes sense that ABN Amro would exit the market. “Their New York presence is represented by a small bank, and that doesn’t seem to fall into the category of what a big bank like that would want,” one banker said.


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