Continuing a trend among regional banks to dispose of branches in areas where they have only nominal market share, PNC Bank Corp. is selling off 12 branches to Fifth Third Bancorp for an undisclosed sum.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third will capture $256 million of deposits in the Dayton metropolitan area as a result of the purchase.

The transaction is expected to be completed by the third quarter of this year.

"PNC decided to sell because they felt they didn't have enough clout in this area," said Joseph C. Duwan, a bank analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York.

"Generally, higher market share means higher profits and it's part of a trend we'll likely see more of in the future," he added.

Other big regional banks have been pursuing similar strategies, disposing of branches at an accelerating rate as they focus on areas where they have the strongest market share and can generate the highest returns.

Banc One Corp., for example, recently sold off four branches and $138 million in deposits in the Springfield, Ohio, area to Columbus rival Huntington Bancshares, while Bank of Boston Corp. has sold off banking units in Maine and Vermont and branches in Puerto Rico.

Jonathan Williams, a spokesman for PNC in Pittsburgh, said the bank had only a 2.5% share of the Dayton market.

"We had a negligible share of a highly fragmented market with little opportunity to achieve the kind of market leadership we seek," he said.

The company said it will continue to serve its corporate and trust customers in metropolitan Dayton and to originate and service mortgages in the area through PNC Mortgage.

PNC last year embarked on a program to sell or shut down branches in markets where it felt it did not have a critical enough share to expand. The program was to affect 30% of the 620 branches it had last year.

At latest count, PNC had 589 branches, of which 56 are in the Ohio- northern Kentucky market.

The merger will give the $15 billion-asset Fifth Third 37 full-service branches in the Dayton area.

Fifth Third has a total of 354 branches in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida.

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