The future of Great Southern Bancorp, Springfield, Mo., was rendered uncertain when its acquisition by Fourth Financial Corp. fell apart.

Now, management of the $534 million-asset thrift company says it intends to stay independent - for the time being.

"We're just focusing on running our business on an independent basis," said William V. Turner, chairman and president of Great Southern. "That's not to say we would never look at another merger."

Great Southern's first step will be to repurchase up to 100,000 shares of outstanding common stock.

Back to the Altar

Typically, however, once an institution has decided to merge, it doesn't reverse course after one failed merger, said analyst Daniel E. Coughlin.

"Those who have been to the altar once usually find themselves back there in pretty short order," said Mr. Coughlin, first vice president of Howe Barnes Investments, Chicago.

Joseph A. Stieven, a senior vice president at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in St. Louis said that because Great Southern is the largest independent thrift based in Southwestern Missouri with strong overall fundamentals, it "could easily attract people to take a look." However, he couldn't pinpoint any new potential acquirers.

He added, however, that the company's "excellent" performance means Great Southern "easily [has] the ability to remain independent and do very well for shareholders," he said.

On June 15, Fourth Financial, Wichita, and Great Southern said they mutually had agreed to terminate the acquisition. It originally was announced in July 1993 for nearly 88 million at 1.7 times book.

However, Great Southern said this month that the negotiated exchange ratio no longer reflected its value. In the year between the announcement and the termination, Great Southern's profits improved, raising the book value of the company about $10 million. This in turn decreased the proposed purchase price to 1.35 times book, too low for Great Southern's board.

"That just wasn't a realistic number," Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Stieven initially thought the thrift's shares would be erratic after news that the deal was off.

But now, "The potential volatile phase is over," said Mr. Stieven, whose firm was Great Southern's financial adviser and who rates the company's stock a "buy." After spending significant time and money - Mr. Turner estimated a ballpark figure of about $300,000 - on the scheduled merger, analysts say the company should focus on the basics.

Typically when an institution is in an agreement to be acquired, "you're in a holding pattern waiting for the acquisition to take place," Mr. Coughlin said.

He recommended focusing on "those types of things that might have waned a little bit with the merger," such as growing the business and soliciting new customers.

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