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Banks Get Cozy

Capital One (COF), the credit-card lender best known for its aggressive advertising campaigns, is no longer a one-trick pony.

The Virginia-based financial firm's $14.6 billion deal to buy North Fork Bancorp (NFB) cements Capital One's move into retail banking. The deal, announced late Sunday, comes just months after Capital One acquired New Orleans-based Hibernia for $5 billion.

The North Fork deal not only gives Capital One more leverage in lowering its operations costs, it also gives it a significant foothold in the all-important New York metropolitan market. North Fork, based in Melville, N.Y., has 355 branches in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The combined bank will have 655 branches and $84 billion in customer deposits.

In the deal, North Fork stockholders will receive $31.18 a share, or about a 23% premium to the bank's Friday closing price of $25.40. Shareholders will receive 0.2216 of a Capital One share plus $11.25 in cash.

In early trading, shares of North Fork were up $4.27, or 17%, to $29.67. Capital One, meanwhile, was down $5.57, or 6%, to $84.35.

The acquisition is another indication that the days of the stand-alone card company are all but over. The deal also could be the spark that ignites a long-predicted round of bank consolidation, particularly among smaller regional lenders.

The banking sector was notably not a big participant in the wave of corporate deals that have made headlines on Wall Street the past two years. Last year, U.S. banking deals totaled about $61 billion, down from $113 billion in 2004, according to Thomson Financial.

"We think the consolidation in the banking business is going to accelerate,'' says Sean Egan, of Egan-Jones Ratings. "The reason for consolidation remains as strong as ever. It is a national market. It's no longer a regional market.''

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