Lehman Brothers is making a big comeback in the bank merger advisory business, according to statistics for the first nine months of 1994 from Securities Data Co.

Goldman Sachs & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. again ranked first and second among the top advisers in value of deals announced in the year's first nine months. Lehman placed third, bouncing back from a dismal showing the same period of 1993, when it was in the midst of a spin-off from American Express Co.

The top 25 include three M&A advisory units from commercial banks that did not make the cut last year: Chemical Banking Corp., Bankers Trust Corp., and Crestar Corp. J.P. Morgan & Co. stayed in the top 10, moving up one place to seventh.

Goldman, with six deals worth $4.2 billion, topped the list, boosted by its representation of Continental Bank in its $1.9 billion sale to BankAmerica Corp.

Goldman also represented Boatmen's Bancshares in its purchase of Worthen Banking Corp. and Fleet Financial Group in its purchase of NBB Bancorp.

Merrill, with 11 deals worth $3.3 billion, advised Dime Bancorp. it its merger with Anchor Bancorp. as well as Firstar Corp. in its purchase of First Colonial Bankshares,

While Goldman and Merrill maintained their positions atop the ranking, Lehman Brothers moved up from the No. 14 spot in the first three quarters of last year.

Lehman was aided by its unusual representation of both Southern National Corp. and BB&T Financial Corp. in their $2.2 billion merger, but SDC did not credit Lehman for two deals.

Instead, SDC gave credit to Wheat First Butcher & Singer for writing-Southern National's fairness opinion, calculating the deal value at $1.34 billion.

Lehman also advised National Westminster Bancorp on its acquisition of Central Jersey Bancorp and Citizens First Bancorp.

Last year Lehman Brothers was spun off from American Express, while its retail half, Shearson, was sold to Smith Barney. During that lime there were several high level management shifts at Lehman.

This created chaos at Lehman Brothers, with investment bankers more worried about their future than their clients, an investment banker not involved with any of those companies said.

Lazard Freres & Co. also moved up in the SDC ranking, representing BankAmerica Corp. in the Continental deal. According to SDC, Lazard completed two deals worth $2.4 billion.

The tables are merely snapshots of M&A activity, said Edward D. Herlihy, an attorney with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, who was among several market sources to point out that it would be more illuminating to study a two to three year period than nine months.

The ranking also relies on questionnaires that must be returned to SDC by the investment banks. So some firms that may have performed many deals but failed to respond to the questionnaires could be left out.

The SDC tables show that Morgan Stanley & Co. and CS First Boston, perennial bank M&A heavyweights, dropped to the No. 11 and No. 12 spots.

Dillon, Read, No.5 in the first three quarters last year, did not even appear in the rankings for this year's first nine months.

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. fell from the No. 3 spot to No. 13.

Montgomery Securities Inc. finished sixth, aided by its dual representation with Lazard of BankAmerica. Both received credit in the SDC tables for the year's largest deal to date.

Total deal value was up from $12.9 billion in the first nine months of 1993 to $20.4 billion. However, according to the statistics, there were 10 more deals in 1993's first three quarters than this year.

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