SAN FRANCISCO - First Nationwide Bank announced an agreement Monday to acquire a smaller rival here.

According to the definitive agreement, the $14.7 billion-asset First Nationwide will acquire SFFed Corp., the parent of $4.1 billion-asset San Francisco Federal Savings and Loan Association, for about $250 million in cash.

The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of next year, pending approval by regulators and SFFed shareholders.

The per-share acquisition price of $32 equals 129% of the SFFed's book value, a valuation that some analysts said seemed fair.

The deal is the biggest in the California thrift or banking sector so far this year, and it is the only thrift purchase by First Nationwide since MacAndrews & Forbes, the holding company of billionaire investor Ronald O. Perelman, acquired the thrift last year from Ford Motor Co.

Such purchases have been expected since First Nationwide officials have repeatedly indicated that their intention is to grow in Northern California.

First Nationwide has 160 branches. But its branch network is relatively diffuse, a legacy from the Ford Motor years. More than two-thirds of the locations are outside California and as far afield as Ohio, Florida, and New York.

SFFed has 35 branches in and around the Bay Area.

Texas banker Gerald J. Ford, who is chairman and chief executive of First Nationwide, said the institution is "absolutely looking for other acquisitions" in California. He declined to comment on potential branch sales, though reliable sources said there are discussions under way in New York and Ohio.

Campbell K. Chaney, a stock analyst with Rodman & Renshaw Inc. in San Francisco, predicted that First Nationwide will have to cut SFFed's relatively bloated noninterest expenses in half to make the deal profitable.

But he said such cuts seemed easily achievable through consolidations of back-office operations.

Mr. Ford said he was not yet prepared to project possible job losses. But he said SFFed's chairman of the past 33 years, Roger L. Gordon, who is also chairman of the Western League of Savings Institutions, is expected to take a post at First Nationwide.

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