Spanish bank Banco Santander is in "advanced talks" to buy Philadelphia-based thrift Sovereign Bancorp, The Wall Street Journal reported...

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NEW YORK — Spanish bank Banco Santander is in “advanced talks” to buy Philadelphia-based thrift Sovereign Bancorp, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said the two banks hoped to have a deal in place by today, with Santander expected to pay roughly Sovereign’s stock price Friday of $3.81 a share.

That would value Sovereign at about $2.53 billion, The Journal said.

Spokesmen at Sovereign and Santander declined to comment on the report.

Santander owns a 25 percent stake in Sovereign, and speculation has mounted it would seek to protect its investment by orchestrating a takeover.

Spain’s biggest lender has been looking to acquire banks in the U.S., which is considered a growth market compared with Europe, despite the economic downturn.

The Spanish bank had been mentioned as interested in Seattle-based Washington Mutual, which was seized by regulators last month and sold to JPMorgan Chase.

Sovereign Bancorp, the parent company of Sovereign Bank, is the biggest U.S. savings and loan since the collapse of WaMu.

It has a major presence in the Northeast, with 750 branches and about 12,000 employees.

Information from Bloomberg News is included in this report.