The largest independent commercial bank left in South Carolina may be on the verge of a buyout, if stock market price is any indication.

Sumter-based NBSC Corp., which has $1 billion of assets, was trading Monday at $30 a share, its 52-week high, up 75 cents from last Friday. It began the month at $26.25 a share.

Rumored tire-kickers include SouthTrust Corp., Birmingham, Ala., and Columbus, Ga.-based Synovus Financial Corp. Both banks declined comment Tuesday. NBSC executives also declined comment.

NBSC's management team has been vocal about its intent to remain independent. Chairman and CEO Robert V. Royall Jr. and president William L. Pherigo are former executives of Citizens and Southern Corp. of South Carolina, now part of NationsBank Corp.

They took over NBSC in 1991, vowing they would not sell out.

Mr. Royall and Mr. Pherigo, along with their team of other former Citizens and Southern executives, have, during the last three years, managed to improve the once-troubled NBSC's earnings and credit quality. Return on assets reached 0.85% in the June quarter, up from 0.42% at the end of 1990.

But analysts and other observers, who did not wish to be named, say NBSC executives know that earnings probably won't improve fast enough to fend off attractive buyout offers.

For that reason, the observers say, NBSC is listening to proposals from SouthTrust and Synovus, two holding companies that tend to offer their acquired banks a high level of autonomy and minimal employee layoffs.

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