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BankAmerica Divestiture Plans Called Public Relations Ploy


A research group on Monday alleged that BankAmerica Corp.'s planned divestitures to satisfy antitrust concerns arising from its pending acquisition of Security Pacific Corp. will not satisfy federal rules in Washington state.

In its report, the Charlotte, N.C.-based Southern Finance Project called the San Francisco bank's divestiture plans "a public relations gesture, not a serious effort to comply with antitrust standards."

BankAmerica spokesman Peter Magnani said the bank did not want to comment on the report, but called it "speculation based on speculation" about the bank's plans that have appeared in various publications.

BankAmerica, which is expected to have about $180 billion in assets after the merger, has not specified what divestitures it will make to satisfy antitrust concerns, other than to state in one Securities and Exchange Commission document that it may sell branches with $4 billion in deposits in California, Washington, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon.

Various reports have said that 36 branches in Washington have been targeted for sale, along with 24 branches in Arizona. Antitrust concerns stemming from the merger are not as much of an issue in California as they are in Washington, although various sources suggest that the bank may eventually have to sell some branches in Riverside County and in parts of the San Joaquin Valley.

In the report, the Southern Finance Project, a nonprofit, populist group that lately has been monitoring big bank mergers, said the combined BankAmerica-Security Pacific operation would still exceed federal guidelines for concentration of business in eight Washington counties after the branch sales. Seattle would be among those areas, the group said.

The report added that the merged banks would control more than 35% of the commercial bank deposts in 11 counties, and 58% in King County, where Seattle is located.

The report also said the combined bank would control a huge share of the market for medium-size business loans in both Washington and California.

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