THE BUDGET STALEMATE is a mixed blessing for banks - even though the delay in the balanced budget bill means postponement of banks' $600 million-a-year tab to help finance the thrift bailout.

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THE SECRET to making banks more efficient? Three government researchers say it's the combination of involved shareholders and managers who own a stake in the company.

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SMALL BANKS that push fee-based services rather than cutting costs may be making a mistake, a University of Minnesota study suggests.

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SILICON VALLEY Bank, nearly killed by losses in commercial real estate, is back in its original niche: lending to high-tech companies.

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JOHN E. STEURI, chairman and chief executive officer of Alltel Information Services and one of the luminaries of the bank data processing business, will retire in May.

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SWIFT, the bank-owned global financial messaging service, has launched several new interbank communication formats, including some for securities trading.

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FIRST UNION's profits surged 13% in the fourth quarter, largely on stronger noninterest income. Wachovia's net rose 3% despite weakness in its credit card portfolio.

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MILWAUKEE'S FIRSTAR, under the gun to restructure costs or face a takeover, is inching closer to an announcement that could result in major cuts - including the elimination of hundreds of jobs.

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FANNIE MAE's net earnings rose a whisker last year, to $2.14 billion - even after a big contribution to the Fannie Mae Foundation.

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SEVERAL FUND FIRMS are encouraging bank brokers to play up future tax code changes in their marketing pitches. Van Kampen American, in fact, has worked up a reference guide on how the likeliest proposals would affect particular investments.

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EUROPAY, the MasterCard affiliate that runs the Eurocard and Eurocheque programs, has launched a yearlong effort to modernize its payment and information network. It is replacing IBM minicomputers with client/server systems from Hewlett-Packard.

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AN EQUIFAX UNIT is teaming up with IBM to expand its credit and debit card services business internationally. Page 11


THERE'S A GROWING SENSE that First Bank System won't be able to raise its bid for First Interstate, because doing so would hurt its stock price.

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