Two major mergers proposed in St. Louis would create a glut of bankers chasing a dwindling number of jobs.
But analysts and other observers say that with its low unemployment rate of 3.8% and a growing number of other financial services businesses, the St. Louis area could absorb the 1,200 to 2,000 jobs expected to be cut from Boatmen's Bancshares and Mark Twain Bancshares.
While company officials have not formally announced how many layoffs would result from NationsBank Corp.'s proposed takeover of Boatmen's and Mercantile Bancorp.'s planned buyout of Mark Twain, some analysts say the number could be more than 2,000.
Conservatively, analysts guess NationsBank would pare at least 2,000 of Boatmen's 21,000 jobs in seven states, and at least half of those jobs would be in St. Louis. Another 250 jobs in the city would likely be cut as a result of the in-market merger between Mercantile and Mark Twain.
Tammy Berg, assistant director of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the number of bank jobs in St. Louis has remained fairly stable during the past three years. She noted, however, that other Missouri markets - such as Kansas City, Springfield and Central Missouri - showed some employment gains during the past year.
But with the anticipated mergers, there would be a number of job redundancies at the holding company level at both St. Louis banks, and at the branch level for Mark Twain.
Michael Ancell, an analyst with Edward D. Jones in St. Louis, said he thinks the market could absorb most of those who might lose their jobs. He noted that the area has a diverse mix of financial services companies.
St. Louis is no stranger to corporate downsizing, having lost thousands of jobs over the past several years in manufacturing, technology and aerospace industries.
Mr. Ancell said the area was able to survive major job losses, including some 40,000 cuts at defense contractor McDonnell Douglas Corp. that occurred during the 1980s.
"If the area can survive that, it can survive this," Mr. Ancell said.
"The economy in this area is strong," he added. "A lot of companies in the asset management area are expanding."
Indeed, the city has three large competing brokerages, Edward Jones, A.G. Edwards, and Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. In addition to those businesses, St. Louis is home to General American Life Insurance and about a dozen Fortune 500 companies.
"Banks aren't hiring to a large extent," said Anthony Polini, an analyst with Advest Group. "But these are white-collar jobs, and St. Louis is most definitely a white-collar town."
"Some (bankers) will go to small banks, but most will go to work for an insurance company or one of the brokerages," said Matthew Finn, an analyst with Burns Pauli Mahoney in St. Louis.
Moving to smaller banks would probably mean pay cuts. On the other hand, Mr. Finn says there will be an opportunity for small banks to get some of the "best and the brightest" bankers who may be leaving Boatmen's and Mark Twain.
One bank that is watching the job situation is Magna Group Inc., a $5.4 billion-asset St. Louis company. "If there are some people out there, I think there could be an opportunity for us," said Gary Hemmer, executive vice president of administration at Magna.
Both Mercantile and NationsBank, well aware of the political sensitivity surrounding jobs, said they hope to eliminate as many positions as possible through attrition. NationsBank has said that through a number of initiatives - not just the Boatmen's merger - it hopes to downsize 4,700 of the 84,000 planned post-merger positions over the next three years.
Anthony Davis, an analyst with Dean Witter, said many of NationsBank's job reductions over the next two to three years will involve branch employees in existing markets. Mr. Davis said NationsBank is adding supermarket banks to replace traditional branches.