While mergers like Travelers-Citigroup and NationsBank-BankAmerica were grabbing the headlines last year, several other companies were quietly making large numbers of smaller acquisitions.

The leader was Memphis-based Union Planters Corp., which acquired 13 banks and bought branches from two others. Eleven of its acquisitions were among the 150. The biggest was its purchase of St. Louis-based Magna Group for $2.25 billion. Union Planters wasted no time, announcing the deal on Feb. 22 and closing it on June 30.

Its No. 2 deal was for Indiana's Ambanc Corp., for an announced price of $210 million (see accompanying table). The other purchases were smaller, with the value of all 13 totaling $3.3 billion.

Overall, Union Planters proved to be a frugal buyer, paying an average of 2.59 times book value, compared with an average of 2.48 for all mergers announced in 1998.

Another Southern institution was second in number of deals: Regions Financial Corp., Birmingham, Ala. Regions acquired 10 banks and bought branches from another bank. Its outlays for the 10 banks was almost as big as Union Planters' at $3.2 billion, but most of the money went for the year's No. 9 deal, its takeover of First Commercial Corp., Little Rock, Ark.

Regions, however, paid more generously than Union Planters, putting out 3.22 times book value.

Norwest and Wells Fargo, which have themselves merged, were both among the most active acquirers during the year. Norwest was No. 3 with nine bank deals, and Wells sixth with six deals. Wells also bought branches from one bank.

All of the deals by the two were relatively small, however, with Norwest paying $44.9 million for its nine and Wells $227.5 million for its six. Most of Wells' money went to buy Austin, Tex.-based Star Bancshares for $171 million. Norwest and Wells were relatively tightfisted, paying an average of 2.40 and 2.76 times book.

Another frequent acquirer was Colonial BancGroup, Montgomery, Ala., which bought seven banks and acquired branches from one. All the deals were small, with the biggest the purchase of Georgia's First Macon Bank and Trust for $61 million. Colonial paid generously for its deals at an average of 3.32 times book value, the highest among the top 10 acquirers.

Others among the top acquirers were No. 5 National City Bancshares, Evansville, Ind., with eight deals totaling $185.7 million; Zions Bancorp, Salt Lake City, seventh with seven deals for $740.7 million; and Fifth Third Bancorp, Cincinnati, with five bank deals for $1.83 billion.

Five companies were tied for ninth place with five total transactions each.

In all, the year saw 1,205 transactions, including 468 bank acquisitions deals and 739 deals for bank branches. The value of all deals was $277.5 billion and assets of the sellers totaled $1.23 trillion.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.