SAN FRANCISCO - A stock analyst here is expressing alarm over what he sees as a disturbing flow of deposits from the big three banking companies in California to the state's biggest thrifts.
James Marks, with Hancock Institutional Equity Services, figures that domestic deposits at the end of March at BankAmerica Corp., First Interstate Bancorp, and Wells Fargo & Co. were 6.1% to 10.2% below the level tallied a year earlier, if bank acquisitions and branch sales are excluded.
In the first quarter alone, deposits fell 4.4% at BankAmerica, and 4.1% at First Interstate and Wells Fargo.
Meanwhile, deposits at most of the state's biggest thrifts grew.
At Golden West Financial Corp., for example, they rose 15.8% for the year and 6% in the first quarter. California Federal Bank posted a 6% increase for the year.
Glendale Federal Bank, which has been aggressively wooing customers from big banks with a 1-800-41-FED-UP telephone line, notched a 13.5% gain for the year and a 9.9% gain for the quarter.
Many stock analysts said the difference in the deposit flows was of little consequence, since the big commercial banks have plenty of money to fund their loans.
But Mr. Marks disagrees. "I think it's a horrible thing," he said.
Mr. Marks explained that the data indicate that people are moving checking accounts, savings accounts, and certificates of deposit from the commercial banks to the thrifts. One reason for the change, he added, appears to be that the thrifts are offering higher interest rates and are being more aggressive with their marketing.
The upshot from such a defection is a loss of cross-sale opportunities. Even if a bank doesn't need the deposits to fund loans, it needs the deposit relationships to sell other services, such as mutual funds and mortgages.
"The primary store of value in a bank or thrift is its deposit base," Mr. Marks said.
Many analysts took exception to Mr. Marks' analysis.
"I think it's totally irrelevant," said Joseph A. Jolson, a thrift stock analyst here with Montgomery Securities.
Mr. Jolson and other analysts said the thrifts face a bigger need for the deposits now than the commercial banks do, so they are working harder to get the money. Should circumstances change, the commercial banks could halt any exodus of deposits by paying higher interest rates, which would compress net interest margins.
No comment from First Interstate or Wells Fargo was available by press time. But a BankAmerica spokesman said the company was satisfied with its deposit base.
"If we wanted to compete with thrifts for high-cost deposits, we could do that," he said.
"But given our focus on relationship banking, the size of our deposit base, and our ability to get and keep customers, we're satisfied with our current business mix."