Saying it lacks critical mass in Alaska, BankAmerica Corp. announced Tuesday that it has agreed to sell eight branches in the state and will close four others.

The offices and roughly $132 million each of loans and deposits would go to Northrim Bank of Anchorage. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 1999.

Like Wells Fargo & Co. and KeyCorp, which have sold or significantly pared their Alaska operations, Charlotte, N.C.-based BankAmerica decided that it would be difficult to improve on its No. 6 deposit share in the state.

"Given the limited scale and scope of our current branch structure in Alaska, we decided to sell the bulk of our retail operations," spokeswoman Sheri Pollock said.

In both Alaska and Hawaii local independent banks have managed to remain the leading financial institutions and stave off inroads from outside companies. The Alaska market is led by closely held National Bancorp of Alaska, with 45% of the $4.2 billion of deposits.

First National Bank of Anchorage is second, with 22%.

Northrim's deal with BankAmerica would put it in third place, at 9%, overtaking KeyCorp. The sale would bring the number of Northrim branches to 11 and the bank expects assets to climb to about $500 million from $328 million.

It is exceedingly difficult for outsiders to break into the market, much less turn a handsome profit there, said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with Van Kasper & Co. in San Francisco.

"A lot of the growth in a market like this involves stealing business from your competitors," Mr. Morford said. "For an outside bank it is tough to make inroads against the local players."

The decision to sell represents an about-face for BankAmerica. Three years ago the bank attempted to buy National Bancorp of Alaska, said R. Jay Tejera, an analyst with Minneapolis-based Dain Rauscher, but those negotiations failed.

With no route in sight to gain significant market share, BankAmerica decided to leave Alaska, he said. "You have to get up or get out," Mr. Tejera said. "You can't afford to have a minor slice of the market."

Before BankAmerica of San Francisco was bought by NationsBank Corp. on Sept. 30, it had combed through its operations, selling what did not earn enough and allocating the freed-up capital in more profitable ways. The Alaska branch network, while still profitable, likely did not hold as much potential for growth as other regions, said James R. Bradshaw, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, Portland, Ore.

BankAmerica, which entered Alaska in 1992 through its acquisition of Security Pacific Corp., said it will not completely leave the state. After the branch sale, the $595 billion-asset bank would continue to serve large commercial accounts in Alaska through its Seattle offices.

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