The big banking merger in Switzerland will put competitive pressure on U.S. banks and may give them another potential acquirer to think about.
"The deal clearly ups the ante on the global stage," said Michael Mayo, banking analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.
"No bank yet has the exact scale, product depth, and global reach to offer one-stop shopping to clients around the world," he said, adding that this overseas megamerger will push U.S. banks faster in that direction.
The combined Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corp.-to be known as United Bank of Switzerland-would be especially powerful in asset management and private banking, less so in investment banking. But analysts said the company would be big enough to acquire most anything it wants.
Market watchers say such companies as Citicorp, Chase Manhattan Corp., Bankers Trust New York Corp., and BankAmerica Corp. do not face any kind of emergency. They have performed quite well in the years since they fell from the top of the world bank-asset list.
"American banks haven't ranked among the top 10 globally for years-thank God," said Goldman, Sachs & Co. analyst Robert Albertson. "The top 10 banks have low returns on equity, and they tend to focus on low-risk, low-return businesses."
Analysts also said the big American banks have already staked out positions in the areas the new Swiss bank would like to build on, including leveraged lending, high-yield bonds, and stock underwriting.
"I'm sure Chase Manhattan noticed this deal, but it is not exactly in a position of weakness," said David S. Berry, director of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
Chase Securities, for example, underwrote $13.4 billion of debt through Sept. 30, ninth in the ranking compiled by Securities Data Co. The combined debt underwritings of SBC Warburg Dillon Read and UBS Securities would be $4.9 billion, which would be 15th, behind Morgan Keegan Inc.
Some financial services executives said it was too early to assess the significance of the deal.
'It is certainly like getting another wake-up call and we have to figure out what that means," said Sanford I. Weill, chairman and chief executive officer of Travelers Group, New York. "In one way, it takes away a competitor because there is now only one of them instead of two."
Several investment bankers said it is likely the new Swiss bank would sell one of its two investment banking units and focus on building one big one.
But before U.S. bankers decide which pieces of European commercial and investment banks they want to feast on, analysts said they would likely soon be reckoning with the new Swiss giant as a possible purchaser of banks.
In recent years European banking companies have shied away from U.S. bank acquisitions-a rule to which ABN Amro of the Netherlands has been a notable exception. The history of such marriages has been generally rocky and any new acquisitions would be expensive as long as U.S. bank stocks remain at or near record highs.
But United Bank of Switzerland, with its $60 billion of market capitalization, could choose to compete with such companies as First Union Corp., Banc One Corp., and other U.S. acquirers.
"Clearly, with this merger we could down the road see additional capital thrown at U.S. banks," Mr. Mayo said.
But before that happens, further consolidation will be necessary among European banks, analysts and investment bankers said.
Such consolidation appears well under way. German giants Bayerische Vereinsbank and Bayerische Hypotheken-und Wechselbank agreed this year to an $18.8 billion merger, and in the United Kingdom Natwest Group and Barclays PLC are said to be considering a combination.
Analysts say the merger process will continue as Europe moves toward a single currency. As currency differences, borders, and regulatory hurdles lose their significance, analysts are starting to recite the same merger mantra for European banks as they have about American banks for several years.
"Scale is much more important than it used to be," Mr. Berry said. "Now that's true in Europe, too."