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Tupelo company agrees to merge with Opelika, Ala., institution

BancorpSouth reaches out

With regional banking on the mind, 1998 is shaping up as a busy year for BancorpSouth as the Tupelo-based company reaches into Alabama for a second time this summer.

BancorpSouth, holding company of Bank of Mississippi, recently announced its intention to merge with The First Corporation of Opelika, Ala.

The announcement comes shortly after the company agreed to merge with Alabama Bancorp, Inc., which operates as Highland Bank in Birmingham and The First Community Bank of the South in four other Alabama cities.

The First Corporation, which operates The First National Bank in Opelika, has $150 million in assets. Alabama Bancorp has $280 million in assets.

As of June 30, the Tupelo-based BancorpSouth reported $4.5 billion in assets spread over its 134 offices in Mississippi and Tennessee.

BancorpSouth director of marketing Harry Baxter expects the Alabama Bancorp merger to be complete Sept. 29, and the Opelika merger to finish up later this year pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

Mississippi customers and bank employees will not be affected by the mergers in terms of jobs or services, said Baxter, but customers will see a name change from Bank of Mississippi to BancorpSouth Bank. The name change makes sense if the bank is to have a unified presence in three states, Baxter said, and follows Bancorp-South`s plan to build a viable, regional banking company.

The company kicked off that goal a few years ago by establishing a presence in westTennessee as Volunteer Bank.

In May, BancorpSouth further extended its reach in Mississippi with a recent agreement to merge with Merchants Capital Corporation in Vicksburg, which reports $225 million in assets. That merger is also expected to be approved by year`s end.

At press time, BancorpSouth`s stock (NYSE: BXS) was 17 1/4, down slightly from 18 3/4 one week ago. Ashby Foote, chief investment officer of Vector Money Management, said he does not expect BancorpSouth to make a significant mark on the stock market for now, despite the mergers. “If they were being acquired, it would be different, but they`re continuing to grow their market,” he said.

As head of Vector, which manages the Mississippi Opportunity Fund, Foote follows the state`s bank stocks closely. Compared to last year`s high performance thanks to several mergers, Mississippi bank stocks have trailed a lot of other groups in 1998, said Foote. Money center banks have been hit hard due to stress on the international market, and local companies have been unfairly tarnished, he said.

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