WASHINGTON - Great Western Bank's purchase of most of Homefed Bank, San Diego, from the Resolution Trust Corp. is being hailed as a strategic coup.

Chatsworth, Calif.-based Great Western - the nation's second-largest thrift - paid $151.2 million for the $4.1 billion in Homefed deposits held in 119 Southern California branches.

Biggest Deal

The RTC late Friday confirmed that it had sold Homefed in the largest deal it had ever completed. It sold insured deposits in 134 of Homefed's 136 branches to four institutions - Great Western, Home Savings of America, First Interstate Bank of California, and First Federal Bank of California.

The combined premium of $163.8 million topped the agency's previous record, the 167.3 million paid by BankAmerica Corp. in 1990 for Benj. Franklin Federal Savings and Loan Association in Oregon

Homefed's resolution will cost taxpayers $1.3 billion, the RTC estimated.

Strategic Move

Experts said the deal is a major strategic stroke for Great Western, establishing it as California's third-largest deposit-holder, with nearly $24 billion in customer accounts.

The addition of the Homefed branches boosts Great Western's full-service offices in the state by nearly 50%, to more than 350. But to save costs, the thrift will shut roughly half of the new branches and move accounts to other off ices, a spokesman said.

By buying Homefed,. Great Western instantly transformed itself from an also-ran into a powerhouse in the San Diego market. The addition of 57 branches there nearly quadruples its San Diego County deposits, to about $2.8 billion.

Premium Seen as High

Analysts said Great Western paid handsomely for what it got.

"It was a high premium, no doubt about it," said Campbell K. Chaney, a San Francisco-based analyst for Dakin Securities. He surmised that Great Western intends to achieve a lot of cost savings.

Sources said Great Western's generous offer also reflected a very competitive bid situation. The RTC received 62 propoals after initially inviting 2,657 potential buyers to a bid meeting.

17 Hard Months

Industry sources said that in particular, First Interstate had bid aggressively for the San Diego County branches of Homefed. First Interstate currently has a major San Diego bank acquisition pending.

Competitors who examined bid materials said, Homefed's

branches generally have excellent locations. But they said that deposits and the number of customer relationships had shrunk significantly during the 17 months the thrift was in govenment hands.

Total deposits had shrunk by 28% since July 1992, when regulators sent Homefed to the RTC.

A Great Western spokesman said the branches it bought "were in relatively good shape, considering what they have been through."

Earlier Sale

Homefed had $12.4 billion in assets and $8.8 billiin in deposits when it was seized by the RTC. Its deposits were sold in two packages, with Friday's announced sale capping the process.

In January the RTC sold 56 Homefed branches in Northern and central California with deposits totaling $1.6 billion to multiple bidders, for $34.7 million. The single h"t acquirer then was Home Savings.

In last week's sale, Irwindale-based Home Savings bought eight Homefed branches, with $191.4 million in deposits. It paid the RTC $3.6 million for the off-ices, which are in the Barstow-apple Valley and San Bernardino-riverside areas.

First Interstate paid the RTC $6.1 million for four West Los Angeles banking offices with $246.5 million in insured deposits.

Santa Monica-based First Federal Bank of California paid the agency $2.9 million for three offices, with S 143.2 million in deposits. Los Angeles-based Family Savings Bank, which bid in a consortium with First Federal, will take over one of those offices.

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