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Barnett says savings from merger more than expected

Five months after buying Tampa's First Florida Bank, Barnett Banks Inc. said it's ready to squeeze out even bigger savings from the deal.

Barnett predicted Monday it will save $80-million this year, up from $67-million it estimated in January. Next year, Barnett said it should save $100-million, up from $87-million.

"We were conservative with our savings estimate from the deal at the start," said Barnett spokesman Robert Stickler.

Savings would come from staff cuts, quick sales of unused branches and other real estate, and other efficiencies gained from merging two large banking companies.

Barnett, Florida's largest banking company, also said it expects to be more profitable by 1995 than it estimated earlier. Barnett should earn a return on assets of as much as 1.3 percent, up from 1.1 percent.

But even as the Jacksonville-based company upped its earnings forecast, Monday rumors that Barnett was a takeover candidate sparked heavy trading of more than 1.3-million shares of Barnett stock. The company's stock closed Monday at $47, up $1.50.

Stickler declined to comment on the rumors, saying only that Barnett intends to remain independent.

Meanwhile, Barnett plans to sell off a data processing subsidiary of the former First Florida Bank, Tampa's Financial Processors Inc.

It employs 160 people and provides processing services to several hundred Southeastern banks. It will be sold to M&I Data Services Inc., an affiliate of the Milwaukee-based Marshall & Ilsley banking company. Terms were not announced, but M&I said it plans to retain most of the employees.