To celebrate its stellar second-quarter performance, Amsouth Bancorp is offering its employees an unusual bonus: 88 years of time off.

The Birmingham, Ala.-based banking company-which met two of three performance goals a year and a half earlier than targeted-is awarding each of its 6,400 employees an extra five days of vacation.

"Setting very aggressive goals helped people think differently," Amsouth chairman C. Dowd Ritter said. "We have accomplished far more faster than I think anyone in the bank would have expected."

In its second-quarter earnings report last month, Amsouth said it generated a return on average equity of 18.5%-surpassing the company's target of reaching 18% by yearend 1999.

The company also reported diluted earnings-per-share growth of 22.1%, exceeding a yearend 1999 goal of 18%.

The second quarter included about $27.9 million in net gains from the sale of certain businesses, offset by increased loan loss provisions and other expenses.

The company is working to meet its yearend 1999 goal of improving its efficiency ratio to below 50%. At June 30 it was 55.65%.

The performance brings Amsouth in line with many of its peers, signaling a substantial improvement from the mid-1990s, when a series of eight acquisitions in Florida hindered the company's performance.

"The company has gone through several years of restructuring and hangover from its Florida thrift acquisitions," said John B. Moore, an analyst with Interstate/Johnson Lane. "They're finally beginning to hit their stride."

As part of six key initiatives, Amsouth has licensed 500 employees to sell fixed annuities through its branches; added five new mutual funds to its proprietary offerings; expanded an equipment leasing unit; and increased a focus on health care lending.

Since yearend 1996, consumer investment product sales have grown 360%, health care lending is up 200%, and leasing is up 800%.

At an upcoming strategic planning meeting with the board in October, Amsouth will set new performance goals.

"We are not going to be complacent," Mr. Ritter said. "We will be raising the bar again."

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