A $2 billion syndicated loan for the nation's largest chain of grocery stores will put loans to the industry on track to top last year's $5.9 billion in only the first five months of this year.

Bankers said early signs this year point to a steady flow of refinancings and loans backing consolidation that will match or surpass 1996's activity, which had dropped to less than half of 1995's $12.5 billion.

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