A San Francisco niche bank that rejected several offers to sell a year ago may be on the block again, according to bank analysts.

Higher-than-normal trading volume in its stock has fueled speculation that $729 million-asset Pacific Bank may be in play. About 229,000 of Pacific's shares changed hands last week -- more than double the normal weekly volume. That came after heightened activity Sept. 3 and Sept. 8, when 496,600 shares were traded.

The heavy activity has boosted Pacific's stock price nearly 12% since Sept. 13. The stock was trading at $20.875 at midday Tuesday, unchanged from Monday's close.

Pacific chief executive officer Michael Tun Zan did not return calls seeking comment on the bank's sudden stock surge. New York-based Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., which is believed to be handling a potential sale, also did not return calls.

Pacific, which focuses on international trade finance and wealth management, put itself up for sale last year. The bank got several offers from suitors with assets in the $3 billion to $5 billion range, but controlling shareholder Cheong Swee Kheong rejected the bids because she preferred cash to stock.

The Singapore resident has since liquidated her stake in Pacific and no longer controls four of the bank's seven board seats. And Pacific officials have said they would consider a sale if a suitable buyer emerges.

Joseph K. Morford, an analyst at Dain Rauscher Wessels in San Francisco, said Pacific, one of the largest independent banks in the San Francisco Bay area, would make a nice fit for any company looking to enhance its presence in California. The bank also has five branches around Los Angeles -- scooped up in the acquisition of Sterling West Bancorp in January 1998 -- and one in Hong Kong.

Observers said Pacific could fetch $25 to $30 per share in a sale. Rumored buyers include First Republic Bank, San Francisco; Bay View Capital, San Mateo, Calif.; City National Corp., Los Angeles; and Greater Bay Bancorp, Palo Alto, Calif.

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