Three Florida community banks have acquired nine branches of the failed Carteret Federal Savings Bank.

The largest purchase, approved Friday by the Resolution Trust Corp., was made by the Miami-based Commercial Bank of Florida. It acquired five Carteret branches with $120 million of deposits. The Newark, N.J.-based thrift failed two years ago.

The acquisition will allow $250 million-asset Commercial Bank to expand into neighboring Broward County, a high-growth area just north of Miami. It will have a total of 12 branches, four of which will be in Broward County.

"These branches are in appropriate locations for us," said Joan R. Papadakis, senior vice president of Commercial Bank. "They're also of the size that makes them immediately profitable."

As for the other branches sold, two of them were bought by Life Savings Bank in Clearwater. Life paid the RTC a franchise premium of $1.3 million for the branches and $30 million of deposits.

Hamilton Bank of Miami bought the remaining two branches, which are located in Tampa and Winter Haven. It paid a franchise premium of $2 million for more than $14 million in deposits.

The nine branches reopened on Monday. Collectively, the offices held total assets of $165,000 and 20,000 individual deposit accounts. Carteret Federal still has 30 banking offices in New Jersey that are unsold.

Commercial Bank, which paid the RTC a franchise premium of $5.6 million, had been looking for acquisition targets for the past year or so. With $10 million raised from its initial public offering in October 1993, the bank was anxious to expand, Ms. Papadakis said.

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