Compass Bancshares of Birmingham, Ala., has emerged as the leading candidate to buy the deposits and most of the assets of Pacific Southwest Bank in Corpus Christi, Tex.

Pacific, a privately held $1.2 billion-asset company, had been negotiating with International Bancshares of Laredo, Tex., but those talks broke off late last month, according to both companies. Neither company would be specific about why the talks ended.

"It's like baking a pie," said Dennis Nixon, chairman and chief executive officer of International Bancshares. "Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't work out."

Pacific's parent company, Pacific USA Holdings Corp. of Dallas, had hoped to sell most of the thrift in December.

Pacific is selling 33 offices with about $950 million of deposits and about $450 million in loans, said Pradeep Bhargava, managing director of financial services for Pacific USA. He said that after a sale, the parent company will retain the thrift charter and hold onto an unspecified number of consumer finance loans.

Mr. Bhargava said a deal could still be finalized this month.

"We're in the process of talking to some other buyers," Mr. Bhargava said. "Some of them could come to conclusion pretty fast."

Mr. Bhargava said there were three or four interested companies. He confirmed that Compass was one of them but declined to name the others.

Compass, a $12.9 billion-asset company, would like to buy another institution in the Texas market, said spokeswoman Ellen Laden, but she declined to comment on Pacific.

Compass has more than $5 billion in Texas assets. It has made 36 acquisitions in the state over the past 10 years.

Although Mr. Bhargava would not identify which companies were interested in Pacific, sources said that in addition to Compass, Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis, Coastal Bancorp of Houston, and Bank United Corp., also based in Houston, were likely candidates. Representatives of those companies declined to comment.

Pacific is primarily a retail and small business lender. It holds a number of real estate and consumer loans.

For Mr. Nixon, the end of talks with Pacific means International Bancshares is going to have to wait a little longer before it achieves its goal of becoming the largest Texas-based bank. It still trails Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc., the only big Texas bank to survive the oil and real estate crises of the 1980s, which has $5.2 billion of assets.

International Bancshares has $4.2 billion of assets.

Mr. Nixon said he hopes to do more acquisitions in 1998 and also plans to open 15 new branches, mostly in supermarkets, by yearend.

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