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SEC reviews Barnett Bank stock sale

The Securities and Exchange Commission has decided to fully review Barnett Banks Inc.'s proposed sale of 2.5-million shares, prompting Florida's largest bank to cancel its investor meetings. Barnett set up meetings with prospective investors in New York and Boston and arranged a West Coast teleconference under the assumption the 2.875-million shares of common stock would go on the market this week.

The meetings were canceled when the SEC, which has a policy of not commenting on its reviews, opted for an in-depth analysis instead of an expedited review.

"We honestly can't tell you why the SEC chose to take this route. They do not tell you that," Barnett spokesman Bob Stickler said Thursday. "All they do is tell you they want to do the full review and tell you how much time they think that might take."

The SEC said it would get back to the bank in a few weeks, and Barnett will review its plans at that time. A preferred stock sale earlier this year was given expedited treatment.

Analysts said the SEC move is not necessarily a negative reflection on Barnett, but rather an indication the agency is taking a more active regulatory role because of industry failures and shareholder lawsuits.

Barnett, with $32-billion in assets and 598 offices in Florida, has said the stock sale's proceeds would be used for general corporate purposes, including debt reduction, investment in subsidiaries and possible acquisitions.

One venture that has been rejected by Barnett is a deal with Miami's money-losing Southeast Bank, which has said it is talking with several institutions about "business combinations."

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