The Equitable Cos. should get ready for a letdown.

Big U.S. commercial banks are unlikely to acquire brokerage firms in advance of a possible reform of the Glass-Steagall Act, banking analysts said.

And reacting Monday to news that the Equitable is on the lookout for a commercial bank willing to buy its Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. unit, analysts also said any such deal is unlikely because money- center banks prefer to build up capital markets activities in-house.

Observers noted, too, that the record of companies that have acquired investment banks has generally been poor.

"I'd be very surprised to see a money-center bank buying a Wall Street firm," said David S. Berry, a banking analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

He added that, although they might be interested, regional banks are more likely to go after regional brokerage firms, which could help develop business with the banks' existing customer base.

"Most U.S. banks that want to get into the securities business have already gotten in via their Section 20 units," said Raphael Soifer, an analyst at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co. "We're unlikely to see major expansion by acquisitions."

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette may command as much as $2 billion if sold.

Although they did not believe a U.S. bank would be interested in buying DLJ, the analysts said a large foreign bank might be a possibility.

Overseas-based banks, including Holland's ING, Britain's National Westminster Bank, and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, have been actively developing capital markets activities, mainly by obtaining Section 20 underwriting powers under the Bank Holding Company Act or through securities companies set up before the International Banking Act was passed in 1978.

National Westminster's chairman, Lord Alexander, for example, said recently that the bank was considering expanding its U.S. investment banking operations through an acquisition. Officials at National Westminster and Canadian Imperial were unavailable for comment.

"It is our policy not to comment on market rumors," said a spokeswoman for ING. She did allow, however, that "ING looks at any opportunity that presents itself."

Spokeswomen for both DLJ and Equitable declined to comment.

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