Sovereign Bancorp, on a mission to prove itself a legitimate competitor to New England's biggest banks, plans to unveil as early as this week a capital markets group to provide asset securitization, derivatives, and trading services for middle-market companies.

In stepping into the capital markets, Sovereign is making an extremely unusual move for a thrift, but one consistent with its own recent thrust. The $25 billion-asset company has been trying to shed its thrift image - and boost the percentage of revenues it gets from fees - by opening a trust company, a brokerage, and an insurance agency. It is also developing an Internet-only bank.

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