Nevada is breaking new ground in the thrift field - but not in the way independent banking fans would want.

Minneapolis superregional Norwest Corp.'s plan to buy Primerit Bank, Las Vegas, would leave Nevada the only state without an independent savings institution.

It would be the first time in memory - at least since the Depression - that any state would be without a local thrift.

Primerit and American Federal Savings Bank, Reno, which Norwest would acquire in another recent deal, would be the last of their kind in Nevada.

As with commercial banks, consolidation has taken its toll on independent thrifts nationwide. At the end of September, the thrift count was 1,969, down by more than a thousand from 1990. In 1984, they numbered 3,418.

But Paul A. Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers, a Washington, D.C., thrift trade organization, said he's not worried about the future of savings banks.

"This is a cyclical thing," he said. "If you look back, it wasn't but six years ago that everyone was bemoaning the decline of the independent community bank in Texas. But if you look at it now, you'll see it's thriving."

"A state like Nevada, with its vibrant economy, is going to create tremendous opportunity down the road," Mr. Schosberg declared. "We're just at a point in the cycle where established institutions are available and there are buyers out there interested in them."

There are other states with a limited number of independent thrifts. Alaska, Arizona, and Delaware each have two, Utah has three, and North Dakota and Vermont have four apiece. The District of Columbia has just one thrift, Independence Federal Savings.

Primerit president and chief executive Dan J. Cheever said it is only a matter of time before the independent thrift is extinct.

"Yes, I think it's going to continue to happen, especially if you look at the competition for traditional thrifts," Mr. Cheever said. "Mortgage bankers have fewer regulations to deal with and, as with deposit services, there is a great deal of competition from nonbanks and banks alike for services."

Nevada has never had a large number of thrifts. According to Ted L. Wehking, executive vice president of the Nevada Bankers Association, the most the state has had at one time is five.

There are still thrift operations in Nevada; three thrifts operate in the state out of headquarters in California. California Federal Bank has offices in Carson City, Henderson, Las Vegas, Reno and Sparks; El Dorado Savings Bank, Placerville, Calif., has an office in Gardnerville; and First Republic Savings Bank, San Francisco, has an office in Las Vegas.

"We've always had just a small number of thrifts in the state," Mr. Wehking said. "It just seems that when the choice was to be made between a bank charter and a thrift charter, most went with the former."

Primerit, Southwest Gas Corp.'s $1.8 billion subsidiary, is the largest thrift in the state, just ahead of $1.6 billion Amfed. The two deals would give $71 billion Norwest about a 20% deposit share of the Nevada market, behind Bank of America and First Interstate, each of which has just over a quarter of the market.

"Norwest wanted into that market because it has excellent demographics and strong growth," said Ben Crabtree, managing director with Dain Bosworth Inc. "And essentially, once they acquired Amfed, Primerit became even more logical."

Mr. Crabtree said the acquisition will enable Norwest to cross-sell Amfed and Primerit's customers into more products and relationships while eliminating redundant costs.

While the deal, valued at $175 million and expected to close in the third quarter of 1996, would end Nevada's limited line of independent thrifts, Amfed did its best to eliminate competition on its own. It merged with Home Federal Bank, Reno, in September 1994 and reached a similar deal earlier with First Western Bank, also in Reno.

Two other savings banks were closed by the Resolution Trust Corp. earlier in the decade. Atlantic Financial Savings was shut in August 1993, with certain assets and liabilities taken over by First Western Bank, and Frontier Savings Association was closed in December 1990, with Bank of America Nevada picking up the remains.

Primerit's Mr. Cheever said thrifts have been moving away from traditional savings and loan responsibilities since the S&L scandal of the late 1980s, in an attempt to distance themselves from the crisis. That move, combined with current pending legislation, could well presage the death of the thrift industry, he said.

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