The American Bankers Association has scheduled a special board meeting for Saturday in Chicago but is keeping the agenda under wraps.

Sources said the purpose of the meeting is to discuss a merger with America's Community Bankers, the thrift trade organization. ABA officials did not respond to numerous calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Some bankers on the ABA's board said even they were being kept in the dark about the agenda.

Coincidentally, the ACB board is also meeting Saturday. But officials said that meeting, at a resort in Farmington, Pa., had been scheduled since last fall to discuss strategic planning, budget, and policy issues.

ACB president Paul A. Schosberg, while not ruling out the possibility of joining forces with another trade association, said no merger discussion is on the ACB's agenda Saturday. He insisted the thrift group is sticking to a strategic plan adopted in January. "The plan is premised on ACB remaining an independent trade association," he said.

The ABA has never made a "serious overture," despite on-and-off merger talks between the groups over the past two years, he said. Mr. Schosberg said he did not know why the ABA called its special board meeting.

"This is all a classic summertime rumor," an ACB spokesman said. "People are adding 2 plus 2 and coming up with 12. If it's a merger, it's a unilateral merger."

Yet observers said that the time is ripe for the long-rumored deal because Mr. Schosberg is retiring in December and his successor has not yet been chosen.

A merger makes sense for these rivals, sources said, because the consolidation wave is thinning membership at both groups and combined, their lobbying clout might grow.

Many noted that state bank and thrift trade groups have linked up in North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and other states for similar reasons. The Indiana Bankers Association said last month that it is close to a merger with the Indiana League of Savings Institutions.

Still, skeptics called a union between the ABA and ACB improbable because of the groups' bitter differences over the future of unitary thrifts. The ABA wants House and Senate negotiators on financial reform legislation to bar commercial companies from buying grandfathered unitary thrifts, but the ACB has fought hard against any shackles.

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