Wells Fargo seen as leading suitor for Wachovia bank

Federal regulators are pressing Wachovia Corp. to sell itself, and Wells Fargo has emerged as the leading candidate to buy the Charlotte bank amid intensifying talks, according to reports late Sunday. The Wall Street Journal reported that Wachovia is also talking with Citigroup but that San Francisco-based Wells appeared to have the upper hand.

Even as Congress unveiled a bailout plan to help banks offload troubled assets, Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department officials were pushing for a more dramatic solution for Wachovia, the New York Times reported. A sale would mean that an N.C. institution that became a nationwide banking giant by buying up other banks would itself be taken over. That would come as a blow to Charlotte's status as a banking center and pose the possibility of layoffs among the bank's 20,000 employees here.

The possibility of a takeover surfaced Friday as Wachovia's shares plunged 27 percent following the failure of Washington Mutual a day earlier. The Seattle-based savings and loan's demise raised concerns that Wachovia may face bigger losses in its troubled Pick-A-Payment loan portfolio, amid general worries about weaker players in the financial industry. Wachovia officials have stressed the bank has a large and stable deposit base and strong core businesses.

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