Big thrifts got much bigger last year, even as the industry's assets and deposits shrank, according to an American Banker survey.

Assets at the 10 largest thrifts totaled $296.3 billion at yearend, a 51% increase from 1996. (See tables starting on page 12.) Their share of industry assets rose to 29%, from 19%. Competition from outside the industry is driving the consolidation, said analyst Charlotte Chamberlain of Jefferies & Co., Los Angeles. Thrifts "are consolidating for economies of scale on both the lending and deposit (sides) and to better arm themselves against the silver bullet of Microsoft."

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