The latest deal announcement by Anchor Bancorp Wisconsin promises to push the company into a fast-growing region of the state. It also should stifle rumors-for now-that the $2.1 billion-asset thrift holding company is about to be sold.

Anchor, based in Madison, announced last week that it intends to buy Oshkosh, Wis.-based FCB Financial Corp. in a stock deal worth $172 million. The price is 2.23 times FCB's book value.

Douglas J. Timmerman, Anchor's president, said his company is buying $535 million-asset FCB because it holds the No. 2 market position in central Wisconsin's Fox Valley, one of the state's hottest growth areas. Anchor has only one full-service branch and two lending offices of its own in the Oshkosh area.

Analysts agree that the deal is a good one for Anchor, though it would not add to earnings until 2001-after Anchor has cut FCB's operating expenses by 30%.

Investors, however, were less bullish. Since the deal was announced Jan. 5, Anchor's stock has declined 19%, to a midday trading price Wednesday of $19.4375. The selloff was led by investors who had believed Anchor was about to be sold, analysts said.

"I think there was some takeover speculation with Anchor," said Stephen Skiba, a bank analyst at ABN Amro in Chicago. "But by doing an acquisition, it is less likely that they will be acquired."

Also contributing to its shares' slump may be Anchor's suspension of its stock repurchase plan, said Heather Rosenkoetter, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey and Co. in Arlington, Va. A Securities and Exchange Commission rule bars a company from buying back its shares while in the middle of a pooling-of-interests acquisition.

Still, because it is the only banking company of its size left in central Wisconsin, Anchor may be a takeover target down the road. Firstar Corp. and Marshall & Ilsley Corp., both in Milwaukee, may be interested in bidding for Anchor so they can dominate the Madison and Oshkosh markets. "There's no shortage of buyers," Mr. Skiba said.

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