A key official of Banc One Corp. Tuesday joined a chorus of critics of NationsBank Corp.'s purchase of Boatmen's Bancshares, saying the deal would raise sellers' expectations to an unrealistic level.

"I hear analysts talk about a wave of mergers and acquisitions in light of the Boatmen's deal. I don't agree," executive vice president William Boardman of Banc One said at American Banker's annual mergers and acquisitions conference in New York.

Mr. Boardman's bank was among the unsuccessful bidders for the St. Louis regional, which has agreed to be acquired by NationsBank for about $9.5 billion, or 2.6 times book value.

He said Banc One is interested in deals that complement its centralization program.

But he added that the Columbus, Ohio, banking company probably would take a different route to augment its customer base if sellers insist on prices similar to that in the Boatmen's deal.

"I won't tell you what our cost is per customer," Mr. Boardman said. "But we are focusing more and more on the value of customer relationships. If that cost gets out of whack, it makes more sense to go in and lay our own cable - go in on our own rather than buy an existing bank."

Mr. Boardman wasn't the only speaker at the two-day conference to take aim at the NationsBank deal.

On a cash-earnings-per-share basis, "the deal is a bust," said analyst Thomas Brown of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc.

"Management projects an improvement of 2.8%" in earnings, said Mr. Brown. "I don't think it is a good risk-reward tradeoff to take on the risk of integrating Boatmen's for 2.8% upside."

Mr. Brown, who is well known for his skepticism on bank mergers, also said the lack of geographical overlap between NationsBank and Boatmen's means little opportunity for cost-cutting.

NationsBank declined to comment on the criticisms. But the deal had its defenders at the conference.

Christopher Flowers, a partner at Goldman, Sachs & Co., which represented Boatmen's, argued that the merger would produce cost savings in a variety of areas, including processing.

James Schmidt, senior vice president at John Hancock Funds and a critic of many bank mergers, said he thought "initial market reaction was more negative than it needed to be." On the whole, he said, he thought the merger could be a good move for NationsBank.

Morgan Stanley & Co. analyst Dennis Shea agreed, saying the merger had triggered "more emotion surrounding a deal than I've seen in a long time."

In a panel discussion on market reaction to mergers, both observers said they expect to see more banking deals, although Mr. Shea said sizable premiums probably won't last.

He said many banks are posting big earnings that they can't expect to sustain, especially as they are forced to make significant investments in technology. So it makes sense for many of these banks to cash in while their value is high.

Mr. Schmidt said mergers are generally good from an investor's perspective. "The banking industry is growing slowly and faces lots of competition," he said. "Getting players out of (banking) is to the good."

"We've gone from mergers' being mainly harmful," Mr. Schmidt said, "to mergers' being neutral, or sometimes even good, for banks."

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