Shawmut National Corp. said Monday it signed a definitive agreement to acquire Barclays Business Credit, the U.S. commercial finance subsidiary of Barclays Bank PLC, for $290 million.

For Shawmut, which has dual headquarters in Boston and Hartford, Conn., the deal means it can expand its lending operations nationwide instead of depending on its New England market, where the economy has only recently begun a slow improvement.

The acquisition "greatly ,enhances the geographic diversity of our loan portfolio and adds an established, nationwide origination capability," said Joel Alvord Shawmut's chairman and CEO.

The Barclays unit provides asset-based lending to middlemarket companies through 15 offices nationwide. Even though the ,company is based in Glastonbury, Corm., more than 90% of its outstanding receivables are located outside New England and more than 80% are located outside the Northeast, said Mr. Alvord.

The London-based parent of Barclays Business Credit has been selling most of its U.S. subsidiaries for two years.

"The Barclays Group's strategy in the U.S. is to concentrate on serving investment banking clients, particularly those whose requirements are global," said Mahin Taylor, its chief executive.

For $31 billion-asset Shawmut, the transaction brings assets of $217 million.

Barclays Business Credit makes loans to companies that have annual revenues of $50 million to $150 million. Mr. Alvord says he plans to keep the unit's current management team in place, including chairman Peter Bland, and all 300 of its employees.

When negotiations between the banks were leaked two weeks ago, analysts expressed some concern about how Shawmut would manage the new company.

"It's a little different product mix than Shawmut is used to," said Lawrence Cohn, an analyst at PaineWebber Inc.

Shawmut mostly provides collateralized lending, he said, while the Barclays' unit specializes in higher-risk, but more profitable asset-based lending.

"As you go further away from the home base, that's where you see the greatest impact of bad loans. Here it's going to be important to keep the management that's there in place," said Charles Wendel, a vice president of Mercer Management Consulting, a New York financial services consulting firm.

Mr. Alvord said the acquisition would be accretive to earnings immediately.

The deal will add "pennies" to Shawmut's bottom line, Mr. Cohn said. The deal will not change his 1995 earnings estimate for Shawmut of $3.05.

"It's a nice little deal," Mr. Cohn added. "It's moderately accretive to earnings. It's not something that changes the nature of Shawmut or has any significant impact on the company's balance sheet."

Mr. Alvord will rename the Barclays' unit, which was founded by a Connecticut insurance company 75 years ago, to Shawmut Capital Corp. The transaction remains subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in the first quarter.

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