ANCHORAGE, JUNE 24 -- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has rescued two ailing Alaskan banks with $295 million in federal aid and is arranging to merge them into a single bank that will be the biggest in the state with about 20 percent of all bank assets in Alaska.

Federal officials said they decided to bail out Alaska Mutual Bank and United Bank Alaska rather than shut them down and pay off depositors to keep from sending shockwaves rippling through the state's economy.

Alaska Mutual is the state's second-largest bank; United Bank is the fourth largest.

Both banks have been staggered by bad loans to Alaska's overbuilt real estate industry, which boomed during the early '80s, then soured as sagging world energy prices triggered a deep recession in the state's oil-fueled economy.

The FDIC proposal, which requires approval of the two banks' shareholders, would combine the two banks, their parent companies and United Bank Alaska Southeastern of Juneau in a shotgun marriage designed to create a new holding company and bank.

Steve Katsanos, an FDIC spokesman, said the $295 million aid plan would cost less than liquidating the two banks.

If the FDIC had tried to liquidate all the banks' assets, prices in Anchorage's already depressed real estate market might have dropped another 20 percent to 50 percent, said John Shively, United Bank's president. David Hulin, Alaska Mutual's president, said the banks' collapse could also have put their 530 employes out of work, and affected the state's bond rating. "We can't image the mayhem that might have resulted from forced liquidation."

The two banks have combined assets at $1.2 billion, but their loan losses have reduced the banks' combined equity to less than $4 million, according to Jim Hackett, United Bank's chief financial officer. Both bank's capital is below the minimum usually required by regulators.

As the Alaska economy has slumped, both banks have been forced to write off millions of dollars in bad real estate loans. United Bank lost $32 million last year and another $4.2 million in the first three months of this year. Alaska Mutual lost $42.1 million last year and $9.6 million in the first quarter of this year.

The FDIC in January cited Alaska Mutual for unsound practices and violations of banking laws, and ordered the bank to take 12 corrective actions.

As part of the bank rescue deal, Hallwood Group Inc., an international merchant banker, has pledged to raise $65 million in capital for the new bank and arrange a new management and board of directors for the merged bank, Hulin said.

When asked if he considered the federal aid a bailout, Hullin replied, "Sure."

"Who's being bailed out? I think in this case, clearly the board is not being bailed out. Clearly the shareholders are not being bailed out. I think who's being bailed out is the financial system in the state of Alaska. And the state of Alaska."