North Carolina's community banks might encounter expansion opportunities - and some new competitors - in the wake of Southern National Corp.'s $985 million deal to buy United Carolina Bancshares.

United and Southern National said about 80 branches would overlap, so many will likely be shuttered or sold. One analyst speculated that the company may have to jettison deposits as well due to anti-trust concerns.

"If deposits are available, we would be very interested in acquiring" them, said Michael S. Patterson, president and chief executive of Triangle Bancorp, Raleigh, N.C. "We have grown quite large ourselves, and we would like to continue to grow."

Triangle, which has $903 million of assets, is the largest community bank in a state dominated by NationsBank Corp., First Union Corp., and Southern National, which after the merger will have the largest share of North Carolina bank deposits.

Triangle has a history of profiting from bank consolidation. In the last two years, it picked up $105 million of deposits from rivals NationsBank and First Union.

But even smaller community banks have found reasons to rejoice at the in-state merger of Southern National and United Carolina.

Bank officials interviewed said one large bank's getting larger would be likely to bring in to them customers who don't want to deal with a big bank.

"I think, statewide, it's going to be a big plus for the community bankers in North Carolina," said Charles M. Snipes, president and chief executive officer of $487 million-asset Bank of Granite in Hickory. "It eliminates one of the tough competitors with community banks."

James H. Garner, president of First Bancorp and First Bank in Troy, said that, besides being able to buy cast-off branches, his bank would profit from the merger because it highlights the difference between community and large banks.

"There's beginning to be a bigger difference between the big banks and community banks," said Mr. Garner. "I think that difference is more dominant now."

Paul H. Stock, executive vice president of the Community Bankers Association of North Carolina, said a perceived need for community bank services means new banks could be on the way.

"We've seen in North Carolina, a lot of the communities have gotten together to form de novo banks," Mr. Stock said. "We may see that happen because of this merger."

Six start-ups have been opened in North Carolina during the past 15 months, he said, and rumblings are heard of another 15 to 20 being in the works.

"There are more coming out of the woodwork," he said.

The United Carolina merger creates a $25.8 billion-asset Southern National and leaves North Carolina with only three banking companies, other than the superregionals, with more than $1 billion of deposits. Most bank deposits are held by the large regional and national banks.

Of the 45 state-chartered banks, 40 have less than $1 billion of assets.

Charles J. Stewart, president and chief executive officer of $98 million-asset Guaranty State Bank, Durham, said that's why he doesn't expect too much change when UCB is absorbed.

"It's one less competitor, but we still have a lot," he said.

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