Hard on the heels of two major acquisitions in the securities processing and global custody business, Bank of New York Co. said Thursday it agreed to purchase the corporate trust business of NationsBank Corp. for an undisclosed sum.

The business includes approximately 11,500 bond trustee and agency accounts representing more than $167 billion in outstanding securities. Those accounts include a variety of trust and agency appointments for issuers of municipal, corporate, and asset-backed debt instruments.

Analysts guessed that Bank of New York paid between $80 million and $120 million - two to three times the $40 million in estimated revenues NationsBank gets from the business.

Observers said Bank of New York will be able to squeeze a 50% gross margin out of the business - much more than NationsBank did.

"All of these processing businesses are driven by volume. You've got to have the volume in order to justify the investment," said Lawrence Cohn, a banking analyst with PaineWebber Inc. "In NationsBank's case they didn't have either (the volume or the investments), so they sold out."

Analysts said the final price Bank of New York pays will depend on how many accounts it retains.

"This business is still somewhat fragmented, even if the number of corporate trust providers has declined as a result of consolidation and mergers between banks," said James H. McKenzie, consulting director in charge of mergers and acquisitions at the Spectrem Group.

Corporate trust covers broad operations that provide fiduciary and financial services to corporations and other large debt issuers.

The deal for NationsBank's corporate trust business gives Bank of New York control over nearly $3 trillion in securities processing and custody, making it by far the largest player in the field.

Other big banks active in this area include Chase Manhattan Corp. and State Street Boston Corp., with nearly $2 trillion each.

Citicorp, Mellon Bank Corp., and Chemical Banking Corp. are also big in the business, and analysts estimate that another three dozen banks across the country handle significant amounts of securities processing and custody as well.

Bank of New York has invested heavily to expand its securities processing and custody business, building up large volume by acquiring such operations from other banks to compensate for the low fees that are charged.

In May, the bank bought an $800 billion global custody business from J.P. Morgan & Co. And in April, Bank of New York bought $462 billion in assets under custody from BankAmerica Corp.

"We have consistently invested in the technology, human resources, and infrastructure necessary to make us a top tier provider of processing and related services," said Thomas A. Renyi, Bank of New York's president and chief operating officer.

By and large, Wall Street reacted favorably to the latest acquisition. Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. analyst David Berry said Thursday that he was upping his 1996 earnings per share estimate for Bank of New York to $5.00 from $4.75. Bank of New York closed Thursday's trading down 37.5 to $40.375

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