Once limping along through the oil bust, banks in Wyoming are now hitting on all cylinders.

"It's never looked brighter," said John W. Hay Jr., president and chairman of Rock Springs National Bank, Rock Springs, a profitable bank with $197 million of assets. "The oil industry is going along, the mining industry is good, agriculture is coming back, and we are getting good cattle prices. Things look good in Wyoming."

Other bankers are more guarded.

Healthy Return on Assets

"It's hard to say things are looking great. They are looking stable," said Robert L. Sutter, president of Hilltop National Bank, Caspar. "A banker can live with stable."

The average return on assets for banks in the state was a solid 1.32%, as of the first quarter of 1993, according to Sheshunoff Information Services Inc. And the average core capital was a high 9.16%.

Just one bank, Lusk State Bank, has lost money in 1993. In the first quarter, Lusk lost $75,000.

As in other states that enjoyed an energy boom in the 1970s, banks proliferated in Wyoming. But, in a scenario played out in Texas and Alaska, the bottom fell out in 1982.

By 1986, 21 banks had failed in the state.

What's surprising, however, is that in Wyoming, the least populous state, there are still a fair number of independent banks, 61. That's in stark contrast to Alaska, with only five independent community banks.

Sue E. Mecca, manager of the state's Banking Division and its chief regulator, said a number of factors caused the problems in the early 1980s.

"First, a lot of banks were chartered that shouldn't have been chartered," she said. "There was a lot of speculation."

The bank failures trickled off in 1986, Ms. Mecca said, and since then the state's banks have been profitable and well-capitalized.

In 1987, the state passed a nonreciprocal interstate banking law.

Today, Keycorp, Norwest, and First Interstate own banks in Wyoming, Keycorp having the biggest presence with a $1 billion operation with 29 branches. all told, there are only $5 billion in banking assets in the state.

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