US bank buys rival for pounds 6.2bn

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NationsBank has agreed to buy Boatmen's Bancshares for $9.6bn (pounds 6.2bn) in stock and cash, moving it closer to becoming the first coast-to-coast bank in the US.

Historically the US has blocked the development of national retail banks by banning cross-state-border mergers, but deregulation over the past five years has led to changes.

This deal will be the biggest for Charlotte, North Carolina-based NationsBank, one of the most acquisitive US banks in the past decade, and will be the third-biggest US bank acquisition. It places NationsBank at the forefront of the race to become a UK-style national high-street bank.

Analysts say NationsBank has had to pay a stiff price. For Boatmen's shareholders, the takeover is a bonanza, offering them $60.27 a share, a 40 per cent premium over Thursday's closing price. After the merger with Boatmen's, based in St Louis, NationsBank will have assets of $230bn, shareholder equity of $20bn, and a market capitalisation of $33bn.

US regulators were prompted to allow interstate bank mergers following the Savings & Loans scandal of the early 1990s. S&Ls, similar to British building societies, got into trouble when they departed fromhome lending and expanded into speculation and derivatives. Their collapse and the subsequent gigantic bale-out by the authorities left a vacuum in retail banking which the likes of NationsBank aim to fill.

The Boatmen's merger would involve a tax-free exchange of stock, the banks said yesterday. The transaction is expected to close in anuary 1997. "The company will have the earnings power to produce nearly $3bn in net income during 1997, based on analyst consensus estimates," NationsBank said.

It projects $335m in annual cost savings from the merger, fully realised by 1999. This represented a cut in combined expenses of 5 per cent, it said.

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