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Fifth Third Bancorp Chief to Lose Title

George Schaefer Jr. will give up his title as chief executive at Fifth Third Bancorp as the financial services company continues to struggle to boost profits after a series of acquisitions, Fifth Third said on Tuesday.

Schaefer, 61, will continue as chairman of the board of directors and the board's executive committee in a non-executive capacity, the Cincinnati-based company said in a statement from its board of directors.

Fifth Third President Kevin Kabat, 49, will become the new chief executive at the shareholders meeting April 17.

Schaefer has served as CEO of the $105.8 billion company -- a regional banking power -- since January 1991.

Fifth Third's stock peaked at $69.70 in 2002. But profit growth lagged after a series of acquisitions and expansion, and the company has been hurt by problems with its internal accounting procedures, analysts have said.

Shareholders at the annual meeting in March 2006 re-elected Schaefer and three other members of the company's board, rejecting a call for them to withhold votes as the stock was continuing to slide.

The company said then that Schaefer and the three other directors each received more than 86 percent of the votes cast, but would not provide more specific vote counts. One analyst said the vote total indicated that some shareholders were frustrated with the company's performance.

Richard Bove, an analyst with the New York-based Punk, Ziegel, said at the time that, with 14% or so not voting for Schaefer, there clearly seemed to be some shareholders registering their discontent.

Schaefer tried to reassure shareholders at last year's meeting, telling them he believed the company was taking the right steps for the future.

The announcement that Schaefer was stepping down as CEO was made after the stock market closed on Tuesday. Fifth Third shares rose 32 cents to $40.35 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

The company is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter earnings Thursday.

Kabat was named president of the company in June. He previously served as executive vice president, where he led both retail and affiliate banking since August 2004.

Fifth Third Bancorp is a diversified financial services company that operates 19 affiliates with 1,155 banking centers and 2,099 Jeanie ATMs in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

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