In a surprise announcement today, MNC Financial Inc., Maryland's largest bank holding company, said Alan P. Hoblitzell was retiring immediately as chairman and chief executive officer. He is being replaced by Alfred Lerner, the company's largest stockholder.

For months MNC has denied rumors that Hoblitzell would be leaving the top position because of financial problems that have seen the bank's stock price sink to less than $6 a share. In midday trading today, the stock was down 3/8 to $6 1/4 .

Hoblitzell, 59, told the company's board of directors of his retirement at a special meeting Saturday. Only Hoblitzell's departure and Lerner's appointment were discussed at that meeting, according to MNC spokesman Daniel Finney. Hoblitzell will remain on the board.

Lerner, 56, is the chairman of the Progressive Corp., an insurance holding company in Cleveland. He had been chairman of Equitable Bancorporation before that Baltimore bank company was acquired by MNC in a stock swap in January. With the completion of the merger, Lerner became MNC's largest stockholder with 8.9 percent of the stock.

He will increase his stake further under a recent agreement to pump up MNC's capital by buying as much as $180 million worth of cumulative convertible stock. With that purchase, he would boost his ownership of MNC to 23 percent of the shares.

MNC, the parent company of Maryland National Bank and American Security Bank in Washington, has been particularly hard hit by the worsening real estate market. It has one of the mid-Atlantic region's largest commercial real estate loan portfolios.

In the second quarter, the company lost $74.7 million as result of the faltering real estate market.

Of MNC's $16.4 billion loan portfolio, 4.7 percent was listed as non-performing assets as of June 30. That amounts to $757 million in non-performing loans, up sharply from $359 million as of March 31.

MNC's stock had dropped from a high last fall of $29.31 1/4 a share, adjusted for a 2-for-1 split.

Besides rumors of Hoblitzell's impending departure, there had been reports that William H. Daiger Jr., president and chief executive officer of Maryland National, may be leaving that position. However, Finney said the company's current operating management will stay in place and Lerner will be working closely with them on a day-to-day basis.

Neither Hoblitzell nor Lerner was available for comment.

Finney said Hoblitzell made the decision "entirely alone." He told the board, according to Finney, that the company had benefited from his management strengths and expertise in achieving the company's rapid growth and diversification during the 1980s and now it was appropriate for a new style of leadership to emerge as MNC enters a more conservative period.

Hoblitzell began his career at the bank in 1956 as a management trainee in the Maryland Trust Co., a predecessor of MNC. In 1969, he became a senior vice president of Maryland National Bank. In 1972, he was named executive vice president and in 1976 president of the bank.

Hoblitzell became chief executive officer of the holding company, then called Maryland National Corp., in March 1983 and was elected chairman in December 1984.

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