Washington Mutual Inc. and California Federal Savings Bank are seen as the leading contenders to buy Aames Financial Corp., as takeover talk continues to center on the Los Angeles subprime lender.

Sources said Aames-which previously was rumored to be in talks with NationsBank Corp.-has retained Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette as a merger adviser. An investment banker at DLJ said that Aames is a client but would not comment on the acquisition rumors.

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