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Fed OKs M&T Bank's purchase of Partner's Trust -- with a catch

The Federal Reserve Board has approved M&T Bank Corp.'s planned purchase of Utica-based Partners Trust Financial Group, but required M&T to sell three branches and nearly $100 million in deposits.

Regulators late Wednesday gave the thumbs-up to the $555 million cash-and-stock transaction, clearing a key hurdle that had already contributed to a delay in closing the deal. Originally slated for Friday, that completion date was already pushed back to Nov. 30.

M&T now needs approval from New York State and from Partners Trust shareholders, who are scheduled to vote on the deal on Nov. 21 in Syracuse.

But in approving the takeover, the Federal Reserve determined that M&T would gain too much dominance in the Binghamton market under federal antitrust rules. It already has $650.1 million in deposits, or 25.4 percent of the market, and would gain $680.6 million, or 13.3 percent.

So M&T agreed to sell three branches with $94.5 million. It would still be No. 1, with $1.2 billion in deposits, or 42.7 percent of the total. At least nine other banks and three credit unions also operate there.

The bank must have a signed sale agreement in place by Nov. 30, and must complete the sale in six months.

"We do not have a buyer right now, but we expect to have one by Nov. 30, and we've initiated that process," said spokesman Chet Bridger.

M&T said in July that it would buy Partners Trust to add 33 branches in Broome, Chenango, Herkimer, Oneida, Onondaga and Tioga counties.

In all, M&T will have the top market share in Upstate New York, with 241 branches, but will remain No. 7 statewide, with $22.8 billion in deposits, or just under 3 percent of the state's deposits. After the deal, it will rank No. 28 in the nation, with $35.3 billion in deposits and $61.1 billion in total assets.

Officials already announced plans to cut 382 jobs, including 101 in Binghamton, 62 in Syracuse and 219 in Utica, but will offer positions to 363 other Partners Trust employees.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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