CNBT Bancshares in Houston says it will decide this month whether to sell its only subsidiary, Citizens National Bank of Texas, or remain independent.

The $423 million-asset holding company revealed in mid-July that it had retained Alex Sheshunoff & Co. of Austin, Tex., to help it test the merger-and-acquisition waters. Since then "several institutions have expressed an interest" in purchasing CNBT, said its spokesman Randall W. Dobbs. Mr. Dobbs would not name names, but analysts speculate that the most likely suitor would be BOK Financial Corp. of Tulsa, which already owns three banks in the Dallas-Fort Worth market with a combined $1.1 billion of assets.

Eric Rothmann, an analyst at First Security Van Kasper in San Francisco, said BOK Financial is "actively looking" to add to its Texas holdings. Expanding into fast-growing Houston "matches up exactly with what they want to do," he said.

BOK spokesman Russ Florence would not confirm or deny discussions with CNBT, saying only that it "is no secret" that the company is "always looking to expand."

Analysts are also listing SouthTrust Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., and Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco as possible merger partners.

Both have been active in Houston's M&A market. SouthTrust, with $44.3 billion of assets, bought two Houston community banks last year, $81 million-asset Navigation Bank, and $138 million-asset Langham Creek National Bank. Wells Fargo is acquiring $2 billion-asset Prime Bancshares, the city's third-largest independent community bank.

Ralph Williams, CNBT's president and chief executive officer, said the company would have preferred to keep any deliberations private, but its soaring stock price forced the July 14 disclosure. Since bottoming out at $8.75 in April, CNBT shares have risen steadily, peaking at $25 the day Mr. Williams announced the pact with Sheshunoff.

The stock has retreated a bit since and was trading at $17 at midafternoon Monday.

Last week, Mr. Dobbs said that bank officials would make a decision by the Aug. 31 deadline set by Mr. Williams.

With $50 billion of deposits in its banks, Houston is one of the hottest merger-and-acquisition markets in the country. In 1998 and 1999, 26 of the community banks in Greater Houston were sold.

Houston still has more than 90 community banks, and CNBT is one of the most attractive, with a loan portfolio in excess of $160 million and deposits of $346 million.

For the first six months of the year, the bank reported net income of $2.6 million and a return on shareholder's equity of 16.60%.


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