American Savings Bank is no stranger to takeover talk.

As recently as last year, the Fort Worth-based financier Robert M. Bass, who with business associates owns a controlling stake, was shopping the $19.3 billion-asset thrift around to other banks.

Nothing happened. As American Savings chief executive officer Mario J. Antoci put it in an interview, the would-be buyers weren't willing to pay enough to get the owners to sell.

Since then, the merger climate has been unfavorable for all the major California thrifts. Mr. Antoci said he believes it may heat up again, especially with the state economy stabilizing. But takeover premiums seem to be a bit below average in California because of continuing concerns about asset quality.

An eastern bank might be smart to "move now and try to acquire something while the system is a little broken," Mr. Antoci said.

More big thrift mergers are "inevitable," he added, though they may not start rolling in California until "past the time I retire."

Mr. Antoci, 62, said he is content to focus on improving American Savings, which is based in Irvine. Part of that entails looking for in- state acquisitions - a search that has not borne fruit so far. American is also enjoying some improvements in core business.

According to filings with thrift regulators that recently became available, net income rose 27% in the second quarter over the same period last year, to $27.6 million. The increase was driven by a 38% reduction in the provision for credit losses, to $15.7 million. Non-performing receivables dropped to 1.04% of total loans, from 1.83%.

Mr. Antoci acknowledged that return on assets is still below his 1% goal. According to Sheshunoff Information Services of Austin, Tex., American's 0.72% return on assets in the first quarter was near the middle of the pack for thrifts with more than $5 billion of assets.

But Mr. Antoci added that "everything an analyst might look at if this were a public company has a positive trend:" general and administrative expenses have declined as a percentage of assets, the interest rate spread is expected to increase, and fee income is up.

Mr. Antoci said one of the bright spots has been Mileage Checking, which gives travel rewards for debit card purchases and checking account balances.

The service was introduced in January and has been heavily promoted, with the number of accounts at 40,000. The increase in deposits has been minimal, but Mr. Antoci said the extra fee income, at $6 a month, has more than covered the program's cost. Mr. Antoci added that the new clients provide cross-sale opportunities.

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