The new Wells Fargo & Co. may begin hunting for small bank acquisitions this year to fill gaps in its western markets, a top executive said. The search could begin well before Wells and Norwest Corp. finish integrating their Nov. 2 merger. The combined company, based in San Francisco, has retained the Wells name.

"It takes a while to get to the altar, ... so beginning to have discussions with other banks in 1999 is totally appropriate," Leslie S. Biller, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Wells Fargo, said in an interview Monday.

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