IT LOOKS LIKE Richard H. Deihl will be going out with all his guns blazing.

The former fighter pilot plans to retire by yearend as chief executive of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., the nation's largest thrift company. But he is showing no signs yet of easing up.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Deihl turned a lot of heads by selling $1.2 billion of delinquent home loans to a subsidiary of Bear, Stearns & Co.

It was the largest-ever sale of bad home loans and, Mr. Deihl says, it will help free his staff to boost mortgage originations.

Last week, he followed up with a hefty $250 million offering of convertible preferred stock. That fattens the California company's war chest for acquisitions -- and Mr. Deihl makes no secret of his desire to pull off some more deals before he exits.

"I'd like to do that," he said in an interview. "There are some obvious opportunities now, and they've been growing rather significantly in the last few weeks."

Specifically, he is keeping a close eye on two Golden State neighbors. One, Glenfed Inc., faces a key recapitalization deadline Aug. 3 for its struggling Glendale Federal Bank. The other, California Federal Bank, forced out its top two executives on July 26.

"I don't know whether that puts them [California Federal] in play or not, but I was talking with some people about that today," Mr. Deihl said. A California Federal spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. Deihl, who turns 65 in September, expects to step down in late October as chief executive of Ahmanson and its main unit, Home Savings of America. He has been the flagship's CEO for more than 25 years'

Charles Rinehart, Mr. Deihl's co-pilot for the past three years, is likely to assume both CEO posts. Mr. Deihl expects to remain chairman of Ahmanson, possibly for a few years.

For now, one of the big pushes is to increase the volume of mortgage lending. Ahamanson slid in mortgage originations from No. 1 in the nation in the late 1980s to No. 8 last year, reflecting the weak California economy and a decline in the popularity of its specialty, adjustable-rate mortgages.

In the first half of this year, the $50 billion-asset company wrote $5.1 billion of loans, down from $5.8 billion in the year-earlier period.

But the big sale of delinquent loans should help reverse the trend. That's because the company's lending staff has been spending much time working with realty brokers to sell foreclosed homes. Now, with the volume of nonperforming assets down to 2.04% from 3.91% before the sale, the number of homes going into foreclosure should steadily diminish.

"We'll have more and more time to get back to residential lending," Mr. Deihl said.

Readiness to lend will be especially important once the California economy recovers, and Mr. Deihl is guardedly optimistic on that front.

"The robin isn't singing and spring isn't here, but there are definitely some signs," he said.

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