Some BankAmerica Corp. branches in small Texas communities soon may go on the auction block, industry sources say.

The company is expected to release, as early as this month, a list of as many as 21 rural branches that it wants to sell. The branches, located mostly in towns with fewer than 5,000 residents, are said to have less than $20 million apiece in deposits. Currently, about 50 of the Texas unit's 241 branches fall into this category.

The long-rumored sale is said to be part of BankAmerica's effort to fine-tune its Texas branch system, a conglomeration of bank and thrift networks pieced together over the past 10 years by the bank, regulators, and previous owners.

The company decline to comment about the possibility of a sale.

Since acquiring First Gibraltar Savings from Dallas banker Gerald Ford in February 1993, BankAmerica has closed 35 branches as part of a consolidation effort. As a result, deposits dropped to $7.5 billion as of last June 30, from $9.2 billion a year earlier.

The bank has replaced these locations by opening 16 in-store branches in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas over the past 18 months.

Waiting to pick up the scraps from this change in strategy are some hungry community bankers. After recovering from years of losses, these banks are looking to expand, and picking up deposits and locations from the big San Francisco company could be the ticket.

One such company is Abilene-based Independent Bankshares. President Randall Crosswhite said the bank would be interested, though no one at BankAmerica has talked to him yet. "If something fit into our pistol, we would be willing to look at it," he said.

Based upon sales of bank and thrift branches so far this year, BankAmerica can expect to receive a deposit premium of about 5.75%, according to SNL Securities of Charlottesville, Va. That is the median sales price for bank and thrift branches sold so far this year.

But premiums are on the rise, said Ed Dillon, a bank analyst with SNL. "Most people attribute the higher premiums to bank trying to burn up some of their capital," Mr. Dillon pointed out. "A lot of banks are looking for ways to put their capital to work and acquisition is one of the best ways of doing that."

The sales, which are expected to involve only physical branches and deposits, are expected to go to local banks already operating in these communities.

"The best buyers for these branches are the community banks operating in those markets," said one industry observer. "And the party with the highest use would also be expected to give the highest value."

Rumors of the sale of its rural branches have hounded Bank of America Texas for more than a year. Several bankers in the state reported they were approached by representatives of the Irving-based subsidiary last year about the possibility of buying selected branches.

To date, however, the lone sale has been that of a Texarkana branch with $17 million of deposits to Firstshares of Texas Inc., the holding company for First National Bank of Marshall. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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