The strong are still getting stronger in U.S. banking, according to American Banker's latest survey of the top 100 bank holding companies in the United States.

The annual compilation (tables begin on page 6) shows that last year the top banks in the country grew in deposits, capital, and number of branches, thus strengthening their already predominant position in the industry.

Citicorp, the largest in assets at yearend and one of the strongest in terms of both Tier 1 and total capital, boosted deposits last year by more than 7%, to $167 billion.

Deposits also rose at San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp., by 4% to $160.5 billion; Chemical Banking Corp., by 2% to $98.4 billion, and Chase Manhattan Corp., by 4% to $73 billion.

Chase and Chemical are due to merge March 31, which would make the new Chemical - on a pro forma basis - the biggest in both assets, at about $304 billion, and deposits, $172 billion.

Total capital rose substantially at most of the big banks. Citicorp boosted its capital last year by 6% to $27.7 billion, BankAmerica by 7% to $23.4 billion, and Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Corp. by 8% to $17.2 billion.

The steady expansion of big banks over the last decade as a result of mergers and internal growth has given them corresponding market clout. The top 100's share of some $5.3 trillion in total bank and thrift assets stood at 62% on Dec. 31, up about 150 basis points in the year and 18 percentage points from the 1985 share of 44%, when total assets were $4 trillion. (See summary table on page 14.)

The largest bank holding companies also held 56% of total yearend 1995 deposits of $3.8 trillion, and provided more than two-thirds of the 1.7 million jobs in banking.

Over the 10-year span, the top 100 increased its deposit share from 38.5%.

Size does not necessarily equate with star performance, however, though most of the biggest banks did turn in respectable profit ratios.

In terms of return on assets, the best performers were banks that specialize in credit cards. The list was topped by First Deposit National Bank of Tilton, N.H., which is owned by Providian Corp., the Louisville, Ky.-based financial holding company. First Deposit increased its ROA last year to 5.03% from 4.89%.

Advanta Corp.'s credit card bank, Colonial National Bank USA in Clayton, Del., was the second most profitable, with a 4% return on assets, down from 4.74%. It was followed by First USA Bank of Wilmington, Del., at 3.6%, which rose from 3.09%.

First Deposit registered a 54.74% return on equity, Colonial National 47.46%, and First USA 40.40%.

Riggs National Corp. came next - the highest conventional banking company in ROE - at 35.73%. But that was mostly the result of a one-time event, a recovery from its loan-loss reserve.

The rise in deposits at major banks did not surprise analysts, who speculated that it was due mostly to an increasing trend toward deposit purchasing. Banks have generally not been interested in paying the added interest required to boost core consumer deposits, analysts said.

"A lot of banks are purchasing deposits in the money markets, whether they're fed funds or Eurodollar deposits," said Lawrence Vitale, a banking analyst with Bear Stearns & Co.

Although some banks did manage to improve their net interest margins, many either did not or sustained a decline.

Omaha-based First National of Nebraska Inc., the top performer in this category, saw its margin fall to 7.39% (a nine-month figure in today's tables) from 7.77% at the end of 1994.

Newark, Del.-based MBNA Corp., another major credit card bank, saw its margin shrink to 5.74% from 7.61%, while Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp. saw its margin fall to 5.58% from 5.66%. MBNA still maintained an impressive return on equity of 35.51%, as did Norwest at 22.30%.

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