The rampant speculation as to who will buy Superior Bank FSB seems to boil down to one question: Who wants a bigger piece of Chicago?

Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati, Charter One Financial of Cleveland, and TCF Financial Corp. of Minneapolis top analysts' lists of banks most likely to make a run at the $2.3 billion-asset Hinsdale, Ill., thrift seized by regulators July 27. All have recently entered the Chicago market - Fifth Third and Charter One through acquisitions and TCF through its supermarket branches - and could be looking to expand there, analysts said.

Also mentioned as possible buyers are $5.3 billion-asset MAF Bancorp in Clarendon Hills, Ill., and Golden West Financial Corp. of Oakland, Calif. MAF announced a deal last month to buy Mid Town Bancorp, which has branches in suburban Chicago, and has expressed interest in building market share in and around the city, said Daniel E. Cardenas, a first vice president with Howe Barnes Investments Inc. in Chicago.

And though Golden West has no ties to the Windy City, the $57 billion-asset parent of World Savings Bank does have a history of rescuing troubled thrifts. Christopher R. Raffo, a Chicago-area institutional salesman for the San Francisco investment firm Hoefer & Arnett, said Golden West may also want a foothold in the nation's third-largest metropolitan market.

Bankers, of course, are not tipping their hands.

Of the dozen or so banks contacted by American Banker, only Fifth Third would speak on the record - and its spokeswoman, Stacie R. Yee, said little. "Fifth Third is always open to looking at opportunities that make sense, but can never comment on specific deals," she said last week.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has been running Superior since the undercapitalized thrift was shut down. The Office of Thrift Supervision blamed Superior's troubles on poor internal controls, poor risk management, and improper lending and accounting practices.

Despite its takeover, Superior has managed to hang on to most of its customers. The thrift lost just $65 million of deposits in the first few days under FDIC control, and it still has $1.4 billion of deposits in 18 branches.

Ronald L. Boorstein, a lawyer and Superior customer, said the fact that the federal government was running the bank and was actively seeking a buyer gave him confidence his money was safe. "I just deposited about $1,000," he said. "There's no reason to worry."

It is deposits - not Superior's portfolio of subprime loans - that banks find most appealing. One banker, who asked not to be identified, said he would be surprised if any bank bought Superior's loan portfolio.

The FDIC has said it would be willing to sell Superior to more than one buyer, which could include selling the loans to a nonbank. Stan Ivie, assistant director of the FDIC's division of resolution and receiverships, said the agency chose to take control of Superior rather than sell it to a single buyer so it could "buy additional time to market" the thrift.

"Now we can consider other options, including breaking it up by branch or region, to increase our pool of bidders," Mr. Ivie said.

Mr. Raffo listed $34 billion-asset Charter One as a potential frontrunner.

"An active thrift acquirer like Charter One would have an interest at the right price," he said. "It all depends on what kind of deal someone structures."

Mr. Cardenas agreed that the branches would probably be sold to a company established in Chicago, such as MAF or $70 billion-asset Fifth Third, though he said he does not expect a sale to be completed quickly. Some banks, he said, might be drawn to Superior's loan portfolio - and would take as much time as they need to determine the extent of Superior's problems and how much they would cost to fix.

"I'm sure there are a lot of companies in the area who would like to buy it, but it depends on what's in there and what needs to be cleaned up," he said. "The FDIC could be working with this for some time until they find a buyer."

Rob Blackwell contributed to this story.

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