VICTORIA, Tex. -- Victoria Bankshares saw its third-quarter operating profits surge 17.4% from a year ago, providing the latest evidence that independent banks along Texas's Gulf Coast region are being rewarded for surviving the late 1980s.

The earnings growth has been accompanied by a 16% increase in size. After three acquisitions in the past 10 months, the company's subsidiary, Victoria Bank and Trust Co., now has 36 branches stretching from north of Houston to the north side of Corpus Christi.

|On the Prowl'

And though recent speculation in south Texas had the bank being up for sale, one of the few analysts who follows the institution believes otherwise.

"They're definitely on the prowl," said the analyst, who wished not to bed named. "I see them staying independent and in a growth mode."

Spurt Began Last Year

The sale speculation revolved around insider buying activity in August, when Victoria rased $19 million in a common stock offering. The O'Conner family, which owns a Victoria oil investment and ranching concern, controls 36% of the holding company and ponied up more than $7 million to maintain its ownership percentage when the new shares hit the street.

According to its third-quarter earnings statement released Monday, Victoria's equity now stands at $160 million, compared with $125 million a year ago. Total assets are $1.76 billion.

Victoria's current growth spurt began last December, when it purchased the First National Bank of Rockport, a $120 million-asset bank near Corpus Christi.

Then, in February, Victoria bought three offices of the failed First City Bancorporation of Texas from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It paid $17 million for the offices, $281 million of deposits, and $115.57 million of loans.

And earlier this month, the company closed on the purchase of a branch in Richmond, just south of Houston.

Even with the First City purchase, Victoria's nonperforming asset ratio is only 0.89%.

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