gearing up for a possible return to the securitization market. Analysts see the contemplated move as a way for BankAmerica to fund continued loan growth without having to raise its borrowing costs across the board. The bank is said to be visiting Wall Street firms and asking for proposals for a possible credit card offering in the first quarter. As the bank had nearly $8.5 billion in credit card outstandings at yearend 1994, some observers expect such an offering would top $1 billion. The bank would not confirm it was considering such an issue and declined to comment. Observers noted, however, that since obtaining its Section 20 investment banking powers earlier this year, the bank has added key securitization experts to its Chicago-based operation. Among the hires was Robert Okabe, a former Lehman Brothers senior vice president. And a securitization by BankAmerica would mirror similar offerings by banks like Chase Manhattan Corp., Banc One Corp., Keycorp, and First Union Corp., all of which have stepped up their securitization programs this year. A key reason behind the growing interest in securitization is that banks are faced with funding additional loan growth with higher-cost borrowed funds. "It's a funding decision and a capital management decision," said Carole Berger, regional-bank analyst at Salomon Brothers Inc. in New York. She said as loan-to-deposit ratios have risen over the past year, large banks have found the securitization market to be a viable alternative to borrowing money on the wholesale market. Selling loans frees up capital which can be reinvested in more loan growth or share repurchases. BankAmerica has seen its loan-to-deposit ratio rise nearly 10% over the past 18 months. Between the end of March 1994 and Sept. 30, 1995, the ratio rose steadily - from less than 86.6% to more than 96.3%. The time could be right for an offering. "There is so much money available and pricing is so strong, they would be crazy not to go," one banker said. And the bank would likely get a warm reception, said Lisa Anderson, an analyst tracking the asset-backed-securities market for Chase Securities Inc. "If you look internationally, BankAmerica is a prestigious name," she said. Dan Castro, an asset-backed-securities analyst with Merrill Lynch & Co., said it would likely take the bank at least four months to prepare for an offering. "Once in place, though, they can do another whenever they want," he said. In fact, many analysts believe BankAmerica will follow banks like Keycorp in diversifying the kinds of assets it is willing to sell. Over the past year, the Cleveland-based company has securitized more than $1.4 billion in student and auto loans and is planning a $90 million offering of subprime auto loans. "We're starting to get active in this market," said Craig Platt, a senior vice president in portfolio management with Key Bank USA. But Mr. Castro said BankAmerica may face a tougher market should it try to securitize other consumer loans. "The natural concern is how much of a West Coast concentration they may have" in other consumer loans, he said.
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