Even without knowing exactly which branches Norwest Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. are putting up for sale in Nevada and Arizona, potential buyers are getting in position to bid.
Officials with Community First Bankshares of Fargo, N.D., Pioneer Bancorp. of Reno, and Zions Bancorp. of Salt Lake City all said they would like to be considered when the Nevada branches go up for sale.
Another potential buyer in that state is First Security Corp., also of Salt Lake City.
Zions and Community First, each of which holds less than 2% of Arizona deposits, are expressing interest there. Compass Bancshares of Birmingham, Ala., is another possible buyer.
All are anticipating the divestiture required of Minneapolis-based Norwest and San Francisco-based Wells to keep their proposed $34 billion merger within Justice Department competition guidelines.
The new Wells Fargo, as the combined entity would be called, would control 23% of deposits in Arizona and 32% in Nevada, according to Sheshunoff Information Services.
Branches could come on the market in such cities as Las Vegas, Reno, and Carson City in Nevada and Phoenix and Flagstaff in Arizona.
Some smaller cities also may see selloffs. In Winnemuca, Nev., for instance, the new Wells would have more than half the deposits.
In Yerington, Nev., it would control 100% of deposits.
Norwest and Wells have said little about what they plan to shed, but a Norwest spokesman said some of both companies' branches would be sold.
Kenneth Thomas, a Miami-based banking consultant, estimated the banks would have to divest $1.55 billion of deposits, including $983 million in Nevada and $568 million in Arizona.
Though the branches are likely to generate much interest, a sale could present problems for some buyers.
For instance, with $915 million of assets, Pioneer might be too small to buy all of the Nevada branches, said chief executive officer William E. Martin.
Mr. Martin said he is most interested in locations in Carson City, Las Vegas, and Reno.
Donald R. Mengedoth, CEO of Community First, said laws prohibiting out- of-state banks from buying branches in Nevada might prevent him from bidding. An additional drawback, he said, is that sometimes it is unclear how many customers are actually assigned to a given branch.
Still, Mr. Mengedoth said he has told Wells and Norwest officials he is interested in their branches, especially in Arizona.
Dale M. Gibbons, chief financial officer of Zions, said his company would be interested-at the right price.
Compass recently arranged for its entry into Arizona with an agreement to buy $758 million-asset Arizona Bank of Tucson. It would hold less than 2% of Arizona's deposits and said it wanted to expand, especially in Phoenix and Flagstaff.
In a memo to Nevada employees, Norwest said it would sell reluctantly. "It's the government that requires us to sell," the memo read. "It would be our choice to keep all our" banking offices.
"In the smaller markets our goal is to sell as few stores, deposits and loans as possible," the memo stated. "In the larger markets we may have to offer a fair cross-section of loans or deposits for sale so the buyer could compete effectively."
Community banks may be interested in buying some of the branches, but it has not been determined whether the branches would go in a single package or be unbundled.