Ailing First City Bancorporation of Texas defaulted on a $22 million bond payment but said it had struck a compromise that would avert a bankruptcy petition.

The Houston-based banking company said investors controlling the majority of the bonds had agreed to accept a $1.5 million interest payment and defer principal repayment until mid-December.

The agreement stripped dissenting investors of the ability to make a formal declaration of default, thus preventing the filing of a bankruptcy petition, said First City spokesman James Day.

No Principle Payments

Dissenting investors still are free to use First City, But Mr. Day said the company would not make principal payments unless and until its reorganization plan is completed.

First City lost $92.3 million during the first half of 1992 and at midyear had exhausted its common equity. The company still holds about $200 million of preferred stock.

The $8.5 billion-assets company is racing to complete an 11th-hour rescue plan. It calls for the sale of 13 subsidiary banks, a forgiveness of certain federal claims against the company, a common stock offering, and the renegotiation of lease contracts.

Texas banking sources say several potential bidders have shown interest in buying some or all of the 13 banks, most located in South Texas. A consortium of community banks in the Houston area is preparing a proposal to buy and then divvy up the banks among themselves, according to one source.

Approvals a Major Hurdle

Federal regulators have the final say on whether First City can attempt the transaction, and therein lies the company's biggest problem.

Industry sources say it will be difficult to extract quickly all necessary approvals for a high-stakes deal in the middle of an election season and at a time when neither the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have permanent chiefs.

However, Mr. Day said first city "believes it is getting full and appropriate attention" from regulators and "does not believe the absence of a permanent Comptroller will effect negotiations."

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