Investors are scrambling for takeover plays in the Rocky Mountain region.

The impetus was First Bank System Inc.'s announcement on Monday that it would buy Colorado National Bankshares Inc., the state's largest independent banking company, for about $525 million in stock, or 2.1 times book value.

Three Rocky Mountain bank stocks have received the most attention: First Security Corp. and Zions Bancorp., both of Salt Lake City, and West One Bancorp, Boise, Idaho.

"The number of potential acquirees is shrinking rapidly," said Francis X. Suozzo of S.G. Warburg & Co.

Premiums of 30% Seen

Mr. Suozzo said that further consolidation in the Rocky Mountain region was inevitable over the next few years. Acquisition premiums of 30% over market prices were possible for the three hot banks, based on value of the Colorado National deal.

Zions, which has $3.5 billion in assets, closed Tuesday at $67.50, up $2.50 from the level before the Colorado National deal was announced. It is trading at 170% of book value.

First Security, with assets of $7.2 billion, closed at $26.25 late Tuesday, up $1 since the announcement on Monday. The shares trade at about 160% of book value.

The $5.9 billion-asset West One was at $46, also up $1 since the opening on Monday. Its stock also trades at about 160% of book.

Crises in the 1980s

In the early 1980s, the region was battered by energy, mining, and real estate problems. Now, the Rocky Mountain states draw people and businesses from the coasts.

Housing prices are more reasonable than elsewhere, and the region offers a higher quality of life and more favorable business climate, analysts said.

The three banks have also been getting stronger.

"After a number of years, these companies have been able to put aside their asset quality problems," noted Norman Jaffe of Fox-Pitt Kelton Inc. "The banks also have adequately reserved against future losses."

A Warning About Utah

Mr. Suozzo issued one caveat about a takeover play in Utah, saying the conservative consumers there might balk at doing business with an out-of-state company. Yet he said that did not deter KeyCorp and Valley National Corp. from buying small franchises in the state.

First Security and Zions officials both said they plan to remain independent. West One officials were unavailable for comment.

Mr. Jaffe said the banks represent attractive investments even if takeovers do not occur. He predicted continued earnings growth, estimating First Security would earn $2.55 a share next year, West One $4.40, and Zions $7.90 to $8.

Boon for U.S. Bancorp

Also apparently benefiting from the regional takeover speculation was U.S. Bancorp, the Portland, Ore., holding company that already has been the subject of merger speculation.

Shares of U.S. Bancorp surged $1.125, to $24.625, on Monday, before slipping back to close at $24.325. On Tuesday, the shares were up 75 cents, to $25.125.

First Bank System shares closed at $25.50, up 37.5 cents, while Colorado National shares were up $1, to $39.875.

Citicorp Among Most Active

In other trading on Tuesday, Citicorp was among the most active issues on the New York Stock exchange, gaining 37.5 cents, to $18.

Citicorp was one of a number of big banks that resisted a downward trend in the market Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15.40 points, to 3,225.47.

With many large banks up a fraction, Wells Fargo & Co. continued to rally, gaining $1.75, to close at $73.625. Mellon Bank Corp. rose $1.125, to $48.50.

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