HFNC Financial Corp., one of the few independent midsize thrifts in North Carolina, may be acquired soon by Wachovia Corp., BB&T Corp., or First Citizens Bancshares, the Charlotte Observer reported Saturday.

Shares of the Charlotte-based HFNC Financial, parent of $895 million- asset Home Federal Savings and Loan Association, closed Friday at $16.63, the highest price since Sept. 15. More than 304,000 shares changed hands, compared with the daily average of 42,000.

On Monday 254,500 shares were traded but the stock closed unchanged.

Greg Stanley, head of investor relations for HFNC, would not confirm that the thrift is evaluating offers. However, Mr. Stanley named merger rumors as the likely reason for the heavy trading volume on HFNC shares Friday, according to a Dow Jones news report.

"Being in our position, we, of course, get inquiries, and it's our obligation to look into them, but as you probably know, we can't discuss them," he said in an interview with Dow Jones.

The Charlotte newspaper cited sources familiar with the talks as saying several banks submitted offers for HFNC Financial a few months ago. But the bids were below the thrift's current market value of $286 million.

HFNC Financial, the largest publicly traded thrift in North Carolina, is one of the few midsize targets available in the state. A distant second is $352 million-asset Cooperative Bancshares, Wilmington.

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