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First Union chief says future is across sea

First Union Corp. plans to consider share swaps with European and Asian banks in the next few years to increase its international business, chairman and chief executive Edward Crutchfield said Monday.

"I could see our bank and Deutsche Bank and somebody in Asia sitting down at a table," Crutchfield said. "This is not 2005. This could happen at any time among any of the large banks."

Alliances with overseas banks could involve exchanging stakes as large as 20 percent, Crutchfield said. Joint ventures would effectively create financial institutions with assets of as much as $1.5-trillion, he said at a Bankers' Association for Foreign Trade meeting.

Crutchfield, in an interview after his speech, said his Charlotte, N.C., company hasn't had talks with a European or Asian bank, though he sees such alliances as a logical course.

The partnerships would involve splitting businesses by region and wouldn't be passive investments, Crutchfield said.

First Union, the sixth-largest U.S. bank, last month completed its $20-billion purchase of CoreStates Financial Corp., creating a bank with 2,400 branches from Florida to Connecticut, $220-billion in assets, 3,400 automatic teller machines and 16-million customers.

First Union wants investment-related businesses to account for 50 percent of its profit and revenue, up from about 30 percent today, Crutchfield said. The company has agreed to buy home-equity lender Money Store Inc. and acquired stockbroker Wheat First Butcher Singer Inc.

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