Zions Bancorp. said it has a $341 million stock deal to buy $1 billion- asset Pioneer Bancorp in Las Vegas.

The acquisition would double Zions' Nevada asset size to $2.1 billion and give it a base for small-business lending in the state.

"We think small-business is a very attractive segment to pursue, and this deal brings us strong business and commercial activities," said Dale M. Gibbons, chief financial officer of Zions.

The deal, announced late Friday, would bring Salt Lake City-based Zions 15 branches and immediately add to its earnings per share, the company said.

But the acquisition is not cheap, analysts said. The $35.70 per-share price translates into roughly 22 times Pioneer's projected 1999 earnings.

"It's a full price, but this is the last remaining independent in the state," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with First Security Van Kasper in San Francisco. "Besides, Zions can afford it."

Combining the two banking companies' operational and administrative functions would reduce expenses by 15% in the first six months, Mr. Gibbons predicted.

Zions would incur roughly $9 million in after-tax charges related to the acquisition in the third quarter, when the deal is scheduled to close.

Zions, which has $17.1 billion of assets, has generally favored acquiring banks with some experience in small-business lending.

In Nevada, however, its 40 locations are mostly standard retail and supermarket branches.

"We really catered more to the retail client in Nevada," Mr. Gibbons said.

This deal would significantly increase Zions' market share in the state, moving it from sixth to third, behind Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.

However, increasing market share is not a major priority for Zions.

"We have no particular goal of getting into the top couple of spaces in market share," Mr. Gibbons said.

The real goal is to gain the critical mass to attract small businesses, according to R. Jay Tejera, an analyst with Ragen MacKenzie Inc. in Seattle.

"They tend to focus on the small-business customers," Mr. Tejera said. "You don't need a lot of branches to do that; it's a one-on-one relationship type of thing."

Zions entered Nevada in 1985 when it bought Nevada State Bank.

George Hofmann, Nevada State's president and chief executive officer, would become executive vice president and head of Zions' Utah and Idaho retail banking operations when the Pioneer deal closes.

Pioneer's CEO, William Martin, would oversee Zions' Nevada operations.

The $35.70 per share price tag on the deal would be adjusted if Zions' stock price drops below $63, remains between $77 and $84, or rises above $84. If the stock price dropped below $56 per share, Pioneer could elect to kill the deal.

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