The largest bank merger deal in the Southwest last year barely made it under the wire. Banc One Corp. announced its planned purchase of Oklahoma's Liberty Bancorp. on Dec. 30.

The transaction marked the Ohio-base superregional banking company's re- emergence as an active acquirer after a long hiatus. Banc One is paying a fairly rich price of $564 million, or about twice book value, for Liberty.

As has been typical for some years now, most of the major deals in the southwestern and mountain states in 1996 involved buyers headquartered in other areas of the country. They were either entering the region for the first time or enhancing their presence.

Norwest Corp., Minneapolis, struck two significant deals in Texas during the year, buying Central Bancorp and Franklin Federal Bancorp. NationsBank Corp., Charlotte, N.C., further elevated its presence in the Lone Star State by acquiring Charter Bancshares.

Washington Mutual Inc., the Seattle thrift powerhouse, made its mark by acquiring Utah's United Western Financial Group.

But not all the region's banking company's sat back and watched. Hibernia Corp., New Orleans, made franchise-expanding acquisitions in both Louisiana and Texas, while Zions Bancorp., Salt Lake City, focused on a famed winter resort, buying Aspen Bancshares, Aspen, Colo.

Assisting Liberty Bancorp. in its sale put Morgan Stanley & Co., New York, into the top place among investment bankers as deal adviser in the region.

Alex Sheshunoff & Co., Austin, Texas, was the busiest adviser, helping arrange 11 deals in the region valued at $466 million. Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., New York, was also active, taking a role in four deals valued at $289 million.

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