Santander Suntan?

Now that Banco Santander has New Jersey under its belt, it's looking for some U.S. sunshine.

Santander, one of Spain's largest banks, is interested in adding Florida's biggest insolvent thrift to its U.S. banking warehouse, sources said. Last quarter, Santander announced plans to buy at least 13% of First Fidelity Bancorp, Lawrenceville, N.J.

Santander, through its Puerto Rican subsidiary, wants to buy St. Petersburg-based Florida Federal Savings and Loan Association, sources said. The thrift has $2.5 billion in deposits and 76 branches.

The Resolution Trust Corp. hopes to sell Florida Federal, piecemeal or as a whole by Sept. 30, according to Craig Francis, an RTC official in Atlanta.

Banco Santander wants the entire franchise, which would require it to obtain a Florida banking license, sources said. Other rumored bidders for Florida Federal include Miami's Bank of North America; California's Great Western Financial Corp., and First Union Corp. Bank officials would not comment on their interest.

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