An improving Southern California economy drove up the fourth-quarter earnings of several banks and thrifts in the region, particularly H.F. Ahmanson & Co., signaling a strong 1997, analysts said.

The $50 billion-asset Ahmanson, Irwindale, Calif., blew away analysts' expectations for the quarter, registering a 50% increase in net income, to $91.2 million, including some one-time events.

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