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FleetBoston Federal Street branch in Boston
FleetBoston's acquisition binge is over, it says. Above, the Federal Street branch in Boston (Globe Staff Photo / Pam Berry)

After growth years, bank looks inward


Top 10 Companies

1. Teradyne Inc.
2. Analog Devices Inc.
3. LTX Corp.
4. EMC Corp.
5. Helix Tech. Corp.
6. ACT Manufacturing
7. Millipore Corp.
8. Talbots Inc.
9. Cytyc Corp.
10. FleetBoston

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The 2001 Globe 100
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leetBoston is the banking company Terrence Murray built -- and built and built.

After taking over the smallish Industrial National Bank in 1982 and changing its name to Fleet, Murray went on a two-decade acquisition binge that made it the biggest bank in New England and the seventh-biggest bank in the country.

The latest purchase came in October, when Fleet gobbled up New Jersey's Summit Bancorp. The $7.4 billion acquisition makes Fleet the biggest bank in New Jersey and augments its recently aggressive moves into the New York City market.

Now, though, Murray is telling anyone who will listen that he has changed his stripes. Fleet is out of the merger-and-acquisition game and focusing on internal growth, he has said repeatedly.

''When you want to get big fast, you have to do it through acquisitions,'' Murray said. ''We did that, and now we're adjusting our priorities.''

Like most of its brethren in the banking world, Fleet has had a moderately difficult time over the past year. Problem loans have risen as the economy has fallen, and Fleet's formerly turbocharged capital markets division has seen its revenue hit by the stock-market pullback.

But unlike many competitors, Fleet was diversified enough to weather the storm without sustaining serious damage. Gains in commercial finance and Latin American markets, among others, helped offset shortfalls in core banking.

Fleet's stock price, though, hasn't necessarily kept pace.

For most of the past year, Fleet's shares bounced around, trading between $35 and $40. That's essentially the same price they traded at on the day Fleet announced its megamerger with BankBoston more than two years ago.

''Quite frankly, the stock price has surprised some of us,'' Murray told shareholders at the annual meeting in April. ''But I'm confident that will take care of itself if we continue to post double-digit earnings growth in the future.''



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