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Deals of all sizes and significance take place every day of the week in Los Angeles. They are the result of many things: Companies and properties change hands. Family businesses go corporate. New players appear on the scene. Long-time institutions fade into the sunset.

Dealmaking last year pretty much kept up 1997's blistering pace, although there were exceptions. Aside from a few blockbuster issues, the market for initial public offerings slowed considerably. Venture capital investment, however, picked up perhaps a sign that the area is attracting more attention among the venture community.

The Business Journal takes stock of the major deals of 1998 and, as usual, we use the term loosely. It could be an acquisition, contract or government OK. In addition, the rankings are strictly subjective, based not only on the value of the deal but its importance relative to L.A.'s overall economy.

No. 1

Washington Mutual buys H.F. Ahmanson

Washington Mutual Inc.'s purchase of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., parent of Home Savings of America, marked the end of an era in Los Angeles.

The $10 billion deal, which closed in October, caps off an institution that more than any other helped finance L.A.'s post-World War II housing boom. It also eliminates the last major financial-services company based here.

To put the loss of Ahmanson into perspective, City National Bank, which now claims to be the largest financial institution headquartered in L.A. County, is less than one-tenth the size of Ahmanson, in terms of assets.

The Ahmanson acquisition was the culmination of a buying spree by Washington Mutual. It also included the purchase of local thrifts American Savings Bank and Great Western Bancorp, and makes the Seattle-based behemoth L.A.'s largest financial institution in terms of local deposits ahead of even Bank of America or Wells Fargo & Co.

The sudden emergence of Washington Mutual has been praised by some local observers, who say that it illustrates the local economy's vibrancy and growth potential. But the buyout also raised concerns. It resulted in the elimination of more than 3,000 jobs, most of them local. It also marks another in the growing string of major public companies disappearing from Los Angeles, and the loss of a corporate citizen that had played an important role in the area's economic and civic life.

Jason Booth

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