California thrifts continued to pleasantly surprise most analysts with third-quarter earnings.

Glendale Federal Bank, under the leadership of chief executive Stephen J. Trafton, and Cal Fed Bancorp, under CEO Edward G. Harshfield, are moving in different directions strategically. But each reported earnings this week that met or exceeded analysts' expectations.

"Harshfield and Trafton have done similar things at similar companies - they both confounded the critics by pulling off turnarounds that no one thought could be done," said Thomas O'Donnell, an analyst at Smith Barney Inc. "The only difference is that Harshfield is selling the company."

The $14.1 billion-asset Cal Fed, based in Los Angeles, has agreed to sell to First Nationwide Bank, San Francisco, in a deal expected to close by the first quarter of next year.

Meanwhile, $15.1 billion-asset Glendale Federal is focusing its energy on becoming more banklike, mirroring a popular trend among the larger West Coast thrifts. Glendale is on a July fiscal calendar, so its results at Sept. 30 are actually for its first quarter 1997.

Glendale's net interest margin increased by 47 basis points, to 2.49%, from the year-earlier period. Analysts attributed the increase to a healthy asset mix and controlled expenses.

"The best way to sum up Glendale's quarter is continued strengthening of core earnings generation, " said David Dusenbury, an analyst at CS First Boston.

The thrift, based in Glendale, reported a net loss of $20 million for the quarter, due to a one-time assessment of $37.6 million for recapitalizing the Savings Association Insurance Fund. Without the charge, net income would have increased by 27%.

Cal Fed also suffered a loss due to the thrift fund replenishment, taking a $24.3 million hit after a $58.1 million one-time charge. Without the assessment, earnings would have increased by 5%, to $33.8 million.

The thrift exceeded by 8 cents the consensus of earnings-per-share estimates by analysts.

At $8.5 billion-asset Coast Savings Financial Inc., Los Angeles, net income would have increased by 8%, to $9.2 million, without the one-time thrift fund charge. Including the charge, the thrift suffered a $16.1 million loss for the quarter.

Finally, the largest commercial bank remaining in Los Angeles, $8 billion-asset Sanwa Bank of California, reported an 18% increase in third- quarter net income, to $17.5 million.

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