Shareholders OK Acquisition of Arizona S&L; : Great American Awaits Approval by Regulators

San Diego County Business Editor

Great American First Savings Bank shareholders on Friday overwhelmingly approved the company's acquisition of Home Federal Savings & Loan of Arizona, leaving regulatory approval as the only remaining obstacle to the $102-million merger.

More than 96% of the voting shareholders approved the merger, and about 160 shareholders, meeting at Great American's operations center here, heard bank Chairman and Chief Executive Gordon Luce laud the merger as a key component in Great American's expansion plans.

The Arizona economy, said Luce, is growing at a much faster pace than the rest of the United States in nearly every important demographic category, including population, personal income, retail sales and savings rates.

The interstate merger still needs federal approval, which is expected within the next 10 weeks, according to Great American President and Chief Operating Officer James Schmidt.

The bank's merger is tied to a $9-million capital infusion by Great American into troubled United Bank in San Francisco. That capitalization plan, asked for by regulators in return for permission essentially to cross state lines to buy the Arizona company, is expected to be approved with the merger proposal, officials said Friday.

Home Federal, with more than $2 billion in assets, has 41 offices--34 in Arizona and seven in Los Angeles. The Arizona branches will be renamed Great American Home Federal Savings Bank of Arizona, Luce said. Great American has more than $7.7 billion in assets.

Friday's meeting yielded no surprises, although some shareholders had incorrectly anticipated that representatives of Wedbush Corp., the Los Angeles securities firm that owns 9.8% of Great American's stock and which recently asked permission to increase its holdings to as much as 24.9%, would attend the meeting.

Their absence validated the insistence of both Wedbush and Great American officials that the request was merely a "technicality" and did not signal any attempted takeover of Great American, bank officials said.

Home Federal shareholders approved the merger earlier this week during a meeting in Arizona.

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