First Nationwide Bank's agreements to sell more than $1 billion of Michigan and New York deposits cap a busy year of retrenchment for the San Francisco thrift.

So far $14.4 billion-asset First Nationwide, which once tried to become a national player under Ford Motor Co., has announced deals to sell 79 branches and $4.3 billion in deposits.

The latest of these deals, announced last week, are expected to close in the first quarter. Charter One Financial Inc. of Cleveland is buying 21 branches in the Detroit area, and Independence Savings Bank of Brooklyn, N.Y., is buying two on Staten Island.

Charter One, which doubled in size to $13 billion due to its Oct. 31 merger with Firstfed Michigan Corp., will pay $55 million in cash for $765 million in deposits. Terms of the Independence deal, which includes $285 million in deposits, were not disclosed.

"Opportunities like this can really provide a nice bang for the buck," said Charles "Bud" Koch, Charter One chairman and chief executive.

Charter One will close four Nationwide branches, giving it 80 locations in Detroit. The company has 94 branches in Ohio, and Mr. Koch said Charter One will continue to look for other regional acquisitions.

Michael Moran, an analyst with Roney & Co., Detroit, called Charter One's branch acquisition shortly after its merger "a prudent move" at a good price. Mr. Moran expressed confidence in management. "We have good feelings about Bud Koch," he said.

Charter One is the second Ohio institution in recent months to purchase First Nationwide branches. In September, Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati announced plans to buy the bank's 28 Ohio branches for $129 million.

Mr. Koch said Charter One considered buying the Ohio branches that went to Fifth Third, but the thrift had its hands full with the Firstfed acquisition and didn't believe it could be a competitive bidder.

"We'd been talking with the First Nationwide folks for some time," Mr. Koch said. "We were not looking to do a transaction on the heels of a transaction that essentially doubled our size, but this kind of transaction is easy to do."

For First Nationwide, the proposed sale of the Detroit branches caps the announcements of sales in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. The San Francisco-based thrift, which was purchased last year by an investment group led by Texas banker Gerald J. Ford and New York investor Ronald O. Perelman, has said its goal is to divest holdings in states outside of California, where it has 54 branches.

First Nationwide still has operations in Florida - 24 branches with $1.4 billion in deposits - and a small presence in Texas involving $93.5 million in deposits in three branches.

Mr. Ford, who works out of the Texas offices, said he didn't anticipate any more sales in the near future.

"I don't see anything happening in Florida in the next six months to a year," Mr. Ford said. "Now, if someone were to come off the street and make an offer, or we make a substantial acquisition in California, that may change."

Independence Savings' acquisition of the two Staten Island branches, together with the pending acquisitions of three other First Nationwide branches in Brooklyn, and six Brooklyn branches of Bay Ridge Federal Savings Bank, will bring the thrift to a total of 33 offices in the New York area.

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