these days, and some of the state's smallest banks are pursuing Bank of America branches. Small-town bankers from all over the state are eagerly calling Bank of America officials in the Lone Star State. They're trying to find out how they can buy that local branch. Bank of America Texas, a unit of San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp., is finally selling parts of its patchwork, unprofitable, 241-branch network in Texas - an on-again, off-again move for which community banks have waited two years. And most observers think a piecemeal sale to small banks is the only solution. Joe B. Thompson, chief executive of Dublin National Bank in the tiny central Texas town of Dublin, said BofA officials had told him they have branches for sale. "I've been trying to find out if you can pick and choose which branches you want," he said. "But I don't know if they want to sell them individually. If you can't buy just the ones you want - if you have to buy two branches you don't want to get two branches you do - I think they'll have a hard time selling them." Dublin National, with only $20 million of assets, competes with a BofA branch in Dublin and with another equally small community bank. The idea of a bulk sale of Texas BofA branches has been pursued recently, according to investment bankers, but scrapped as unwieldy and unworkable. Gregory Madding, a banker at the San Francisco-based Hoefer & Arnett investment house, said one investment group had tried to assemble a "Caliber-style" de novo bank to buy the Texas branches BofA plans to shed. Caliber Bank was a 1992 Arizona de novo, the biggest in history, that bought a quilt of BofA branches. Caliber was successful early on, but its difficulty in building up a lending function led to an ultimately disastrous reliance on derivatives. It was sold to Norwest Corp. last year. "That kind of operation in Texas would be a very difficult prospect without any good return measures," Mr. Madding said. "The branches are all over the state and are very disparate in character." Mr. Madding said the Caliber concept in Texas "isn't dead," but he doubts an investment group could make the numbers work. Which isn't so good for BofA but is music to the ears of community bankers eager to pick up market share. In a highly fractured market where market share could mean the difference between 10 times earnings and 15 times earnings in a sale price, the branches are very valuable to community banks. "The logical place to put these branches is with community banks," Mr. Madding said. BofA is reportedly considering the sale of 21 branches, all of them in markets with less than 5,000 people. The California bank company has shuttered 35 Texas offices since February 1993, when it bought First Gibraltar Savings.

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