Preparing for public ownership later this year, California Federal Bank this week released a first-quarter earnings statement, which shows strong growth.

The San Francisco thrift, owned by investors Ronald Perelman and Gerald J. Ford, plans to merge on Aug. 31 with publicly traded Golden State Bancorp.

Golden State, parent of Glendale Federal Bank, also announced earnings Wednesday.

California Federal Bank reported net income before, preferred-stock dividends, of $101.3 million, up 28% from a year earlier.

Golden State earned $32 million in the most recent quarter, the third of its fiscal year. That was up 39.9% from a year earlier.

Both companies benefited from declining credit costs and higher noninterest income.

CalFed's net interest income was $189.5 million, down from $191.8 million a year earlier.

"In light of the flattening of the yield curve that occurred in late 1997, we're encouraged by the fact that we were able to keep net interest income relatively stable," Mr. Ford, chairman of CalFed, said in the earnings release.

Glendale Federal's net interest income increased 11.5%, to $107.7 million.

In a reflection of Glendale Federal's growing retail strength, its net interest margin increased to 2.95%, from 2.56% a year earlier and 2.82% for the quarter ended in December.

Glendale reported that checking account balances now represent 17.6% of total deposits.

Expenses were down at CalFed, which continued to consolidate the operations of California Federal Bank into the former First Nationwide Bank.

They were up at Golden State, as Glenfed added banking branches and incurred high legal fees in its lawsuit against the federal government over a change in regulatory goodwill rules in the late 1980s.

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