ATLANTA -- Premier Bancorp, Louisiana's third largest bank company, said- Monday it will gain a toehold in New Orleans by buying Alerion Corp. for $47 million in cash.

Alerion, a privately held company owned by the Ferruzzi family of Italy, has nine offices and $341 million of assets. The deal - valued at 138% of book value - is expected to close by yearend.

Analysts said the purchase price appears fair to both parties. The transaction also is believed to have the tacit approval of Banc One Corp., the Ohio-based superregional that has an option to purchase Premier by July 1995.

Other Targets Sought

Premier, which is based in Baton Rouge and has 1.8 billion of assets, has only one branch in New Orleans.

"We will continue to seek affiliations with other financial institutions in the area that would give us the opportunity to further broaden our New Orleans coverage," said Premier chairman and chief executive G. Lee Griffin, who on Monday relinquished his title as president of the company.

Banc One chairman John McCoy has publicly indicated, a desire for a big presence in New Orleans, the state's great port city.

This has lead to speculation that he not only blessed the Alerion purchase but could be positioning himself for more. Alerion has less than 1% of total bank deposits New Orleans.

Analysts are already speculating that Banc One would seek to buy one of the city's three biggest banks - First Commerce banks - First Commerce Corp., Hibernia Corp., or Whitney Holding Corp. - should it acquire Premier.

"I would bet that Banc One will purchase a big New Orleans bank within five years," said Peter W. Tuz, who follows southeastern banks for Memphis-based Morgan Keegan Inc.

A Banc One spokesman did not return calls for comment Monday. Connie Planche, a spokeswoman for Premier, said Banc One was made aware of the transaction but added, "We don't go to them for approval."

Premier and Alerion had confirmed earlier this year that they were in talks. Alerion, whose Italian owners are involved in a major business scandal is a well-capitalized bank but, has not been very profitable.

Its return on assets at the end of the first quarter was a slim 0.39%, while its Tier I capital ratio stood at a healthy 9.75%, according to Sheshunoff Information Services Inc. Alerion's nonperforming loans equaled 2.52% of gross loans, slightly better than the average Louisiana bank's 2.64%.

Executive Promotions

In a related move, Premier announced a series of executive promotions on Monday.

Mr. Griffin ceded his post as president of the holding company to F. Walker Lockett Jr., who had been president of Premier Bank, the flagship subsidiary. Mr. Lockett also will be responsible for the newly created New Orleans banking group, the company said.

Mr. Lockett joined Premier from Charlotte-based NCNB Corp., now NationsBank Corp., in 1987.

His post as president of Premier Bank is being assumed by H. Brooks McElveen, who had been executive vice president in charge of statewide retail services.

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