Joe Stieven likes to say he likes boring banks even though his picks have a history of sizzling.

By focusing on well-run "boring" banks, he has racked up double-digit growth as the bank sector has taken a roller-coaster ride recently. His key has been to focus on banks with strong fundamentals and the kind of market share that larger acquirers are willing to pay for.

Among his prizes from the past year: St. Louis-based United Postal was purchased for a premium that gave investors in the thrift's public offering a six-fold return after just 18 months.

"Joe is very focused on making money for his clients, so I always take his phone calls," said an institutional investor. "He knows his banks from the ground up and that means he calls the good ones before most others even know they exist." Looking ahead, Mr. Stieven said with loan growth and interest rates rising and margins compressing, he believes it will be more important than ever to stay in well-run banks. His favorites for 1995: First Commercial Corp., Little Rock; and First of America, Kala-mazoo, Mich.

he likes the Arkansas bank because of its strong history of earnings growth, and he sees even better prospects as the benefits of an expansion into east Texas begins to flow to the bottom line.

As for First of America, the company's stock price has been under pressure because of investor concerns over the bank's acquisitions.

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