People’s Bancshares in New Bedford, Mass., which for months has been pressured by shareholders to find a buyer, said it had recently hired the New York investment bank Fox-Pitt, Kelton to explore “strategic alternatives.”

The $1 billion-asset company, which has been plagued by regulatory concerns about capital ratios and its concentration of trust-preferred securities, included the announcement in its earnings report Friday. Net income for 2000 was down 10% to $8.3 million, mainly because of the sale of investment securities and an $850,000 increase in loan-loss reserves, the company said.

James K. Hunt, who joined People’s in November as chief financial officer, said the company hired the investment bank “to bring some expertise in areas that we didn’t have,” but he refused to say if the bank was for sale.

“You never say you’re not and you never say you are,” he said.

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