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Westamerica Bank top dog in Merced

After the collapse of County Bank, successor Westamerica holds the largest share of the money in Merced County, according to an industry report.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. last week issued its annual summary of deposits analysis, which shows how much of a market share banks hold across the country.

The FDIC's breakdown is based on June figures and is released every October.

Twelve major financial institutions held $1.64 billion in deposits in the county — $97 million less than the amount in bank accounts last year. While Westamerica is the leading bank in the county, it appears to have lost about 6 percent of the market share once held by County Bank.

"To be flat-out honest, it will probably continue to go downward," Westamerica Chief Financial Officer Robert A. Thorson said Tuesday.

Westamerica, he said, focuses on business and professional checking accounts. The lost market share comes mostly in the form of holding fewer certificates of deposit than County Bank, Thorson said.

The bank has been pleased with its performance in the Merced area, he said. The company posted a $23 million profit for the third quarter and beat analysts' expectations.

Thorson said the company was criticized earlier in the decade when other institutions saw robust growth in their loan portfolios.

"We thought the underwriting was too relaxed," he said. "Now we're in a different economic environment, and those decisions are paying off."

County Bank in 1998 edged ahead of Bank of America to hold the most in deposits in Merced County. At the time of its February collapse, County Bank had $676 million in deposits. Westamerica had $34 million, representing 2 percent of the market.

Westamerica held $566 million in deposits during the summer, which is 34 percent of the deposit market, according to the report.

That's $144 million less than its previous market share combined with County Bank's.

Bank of America had $329 million in deposits, which accounts for 20 percent. Wells Fargo comes in third with $211 million in deposits. Both increased their market share by 2 percent.

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