National City Bancshares, faced with a CEO vacancy, may be the next Indiana banking company to be bought out, according to analysts.

"They may be looking for an exit," said Michael M. Moran, an analyst at Roney Capital Markets in Detroit. "They would probably welcome overtures."

It is understandable that the merger spotlight would shine on the Evansville, Ind., banking company. On June 16, another Evansville bank, CNB Bancshares, agreed to be bought by Cincinnati's Fifth Third Bancorp. And National City is facing concerns about its management succession.

In February, Michael Elliott, National City's chief executive officer, resigned after failed merger talks with CNB. Though the companies would not comment, analysts said the deal collapsed because of possible year-2000 difficulties at $2.2 billion-asset National City and because of the number of branches that would have to be divested to satisfy federal regulators.

Since then, the company has operated with an interim CEO, raising questions about its ability to compete in Indiana's changing marketplace.

The CEO issue "is a huge question mark," said Daniel Cardenas, an analyst at Howe Barnes Investments in Chicago. "Where's the leadership in the company going to come from? Right now, they're a boat without a captain."

Brocker Vandervliet, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York, said National City "might be part of something else" if it doesn't find a capable CEO soon.

But Robert D. Vance, National City's interim chief executive officer, said the company is on the verge of filling the post.

"Our search committee is getting close to having a CEO on board, probably within six weeks," he said. Mr. Vance would not identify any candidate.

Even if National City finds a new leader, it must work harder to compete with hard-nosed competitors like Fifth Third, analysts said.

"Their performance numbers just have to improve," Mr. Cardenas said. "They have to continue to grow loans and acquire as much market share as possible."

In the first quarter, the company earned $6.7 million of net income, a 1.1% decline from a year earlier. Deposits fell 3.3%, to $1.68 billion, in the first quarter, and the loan portfolio shrank 1.9%, to $1.62 billion.

The company's stock was trading at $30 a share Monday, the same as Friday's closing price and 23.3% off its 52-week high of $39.125.

National City has at least one thing working in its favor: Evansville's high-octane economy.

"With the new Toyota plant, riverboat gambling, and new steel facilities down there, there's a good opportunity for banks like this to enhance their market share," Mr. Cardenas said.

Still, if National City falters, analysts see several banking companies as potential buyers. Mr. Vandervliet said he thinks Fifth Third might be ready to make another Indiana purchase once it has integrated CNB. He also sees a logical buyer in Cleveland-based National City Corp., which is, with $88 billion of assets, one of the nation's largest banking companies.

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