The major thrifts on the West Coast reported generally strong earnings for the quarter ended in September, as fatter-than-expected interest rate spreads and one-time gains pushed many of their earnings above analysts' expectations.

Among those posting higher earnings were H.F. Ahmanson & Co., the country's biggest thrift, which had a 346% increase to $273 million, and No. 2 Great Western Financial Corp., which enjoyed a 20% gain, to $68.5 million.

But in the generally upbeat reports, analysts also detected a hint of trouble.

"There's unexpected weakness in single-family properties in Southern California," said James Marks, a stock analyst in San Francisco with Hancock Institutional Equity Services.

"It's true that California is creating jobs at a faster rate than the rest of the nation. But the jobs are primarily in the service sector and lower-paying parts of the wage scale, so people are continuing to have problems in making their house payments." said Charlotte A. Chamberlain, a financial services stock analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles.

Irwindale, Calif.-based Ahmanson, the parent of Home Savings of America, attributed its profit rise to a $252.7 million gain from the sale of its New York branch system on Sept. 22. But for that transaction and other one- time charges, the earnings would have declined 4.3% to $65.6 million.

Ahmanson's loan originations were down $100 million from the second quarter, to $1.5 billion, as fixed-rate mortgage originations rose to 34% of the total, from 18%. But Ahmanson's interest rate spread increased 10 basis points to 2.36%.

Great Western, based in Chatsworth, Calif., enjoyed a 7% increase in net interest income from the second quarter, to $334 million. In the quarter, its interest rate spread increased 18 basis points, to 3.01%. Operating and administrative expenses also fell - by $9 million to $239 million - because of a cost-cutting program begun in 1993.

Elsewhere, Golden West Financial Corp. of Oakland, Calif., the parent of World Savings, had a 12% increase in net income, to $63.4 million. The company cited a 6% increase in net interest income, due to strong portfolio growth offset by a lower interest rate spread. Golden West also benefited from a lower effective income tax rate.

Glendale Federal Bank of Glendale, Calif., reported a 47% increase in net income, to $13.8 million, as the interest rate spread rose 19 basis points in the quarter, to 2.02%.

Washington Mutual Inc. of Seattle boosted its net income by 11%, to $48.8 million, as its net interest margin improved 14 basis points, to 3.07%.

California Federal Bank, of Los Angeles, reported a 79% decline in earnings, to $31.9 million. But if a gain last year from the sale of its branches in Florida and Georgia were excluded, profits would have more than doubled.

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