Banc One Corp., which sat out last year's merger party, is set on expanding its modest presence in Louisiana.

The "bank's footprints have been all over New Orleans" as the company tried to strike up merger talks with the city's major banks, one investment banker said.

And Banc One's director of mergers and acquisitions, William Boardman, told a conference this week his bank hopes to expand off its base in the state.

"Banc One always wants to fill in gaps in states the bank has a presence in," he said. Last year the bank exercised an option it had had since 1991 to acquire Premier Bancorp of Baton Rouge, with 149 branches in Louisiana and 24 in New Orleans.

But Banc One may be encountering some difficulty, judging from some of Mr. Boardman's comments.

"We joined with Premier last year, the largest bank outside New Orleans," he told a bank and financial analysts' conference. "Hopefully, the planets will line up, and one of those larger banks in New Orleans will want to talk with us."

Later, he conceded, "It takes interest on the part of both parties" to strike a deal and cautioned observers not to expect a purchase soon.

The Premier acquisition was the only significant purchase Banc One made in a year that saw more than $70 billion of deals announced in the industry.

Mr. Boardman said he hoped one of three New Orleans banks - Whitney Holdings Co., Hibernia Corp., or First Commerce Corp. - would step up to the negotiating table. But nothing serious is going on right now, an investment banker said.

Further evidence of the resistance those banks have offered to an outside suitor is First Commerce's recent adoption of a poison pill. The bank cited the need to protect its franchise against unwanted acquirers.

Some investment bankers say Banc One probably would be most interested in Hibernia. But analyst Hal Schroeder of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. said Whitney might make a better acquisition, even if its business is not as strong as Hibernia's.

He pointed out that nearly all Whitney's branches are in New Orleans, making it a good fit with Premier's branch system outside the city.

"Banc One has to fill that hole in New Orleans," he said. "The question is how quickly they want to fill it."

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