Four years ago, the Louisiana marketplace was deep in the tank, with the energy sector enfeebled and one-time leaders like Hibernia Corp. struggling with anything but the luck of the Irish.

But the Pelican State has shaped up a lot since then, and there's perhaps no better proof than Banc One Corp.'s decision in July to exercise its four-year-old option to buy Premier Bancorp. The $5.5-billion-asset Baton Rouge institution is expected to be folded into Banc One by the end of the year.

Early in 1991, Banc One had rushed in with a $65-million capital infusion for Premier, receiving in return an option to buy the institution as early as July 1995. Premier posted a weak 0.24% return on assets in 1991, but lifted that to 1.29% two years ago and 1.39% (with a 17.6% return on equity) last year. Banc One CEO John B. McCoy complimented the "outstanding job Premier has done improving both the credit quality and performance of their franchise."

Premier itself has done a series of small deals in recent years, but has added only $1.3 billion in assets since 1990.

And speaking of Hibernia, it is finding its home grounds pretty fertile again, too. It posted a 1.67% ROA and 18.44% ROE for the first half of the year and has been turning up on a lot of analysts' buy lists. As they say in New Orleans, let the bon temps roulez.

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