If it weren't for the biggest bank merger in history, the first half of this year would have been downright dull for advisers.

The four investment banks advising on the $12.31 billion Wells Fargo & Co. acquisition of First Interstate Bancorp took the top slots in the rankings of advisers for deals announced in the first half of 1996, according to data from SNL Securities, Charlottesville, Va.

Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Montgomery Securities, both working on Wells' behalf, each advised on four deals, with Goldman finishing first at $12.837 billion and Montgomery second, with $12.449 billion.

For their roles advising First Interstate Bancorp, CS First Boston and Morgan Stanley and Co. claimed a tie for the third slot.

Aside from the Wells deal, however, it was a slow first half for bank advisers, with 13 of the buyers in the 20 biggest mergers electing not to use advisers.

Analysts said this reflected the smaller relative deal size, with a number of banks using their own in-house advisers for deals.

Goldman advised California Bancshares in its $328 million sale to U.S. Bancorp, the sixth-largest deal of the quarter, and Hubco Inc. in its $137 million purchase of Lafayette American Bank and Trust Co., the 13th-largest deal of the half.

Montgomery took the second slot by advising Western Bank in its sale to Monarch Bancorp., and advised both the buyer and the seller in Home Interstate Bancorp's acquisition of CU Bancorp.

Merrill Lynch ranked fifth with a total of $1.235 billion from five deals, including the second-largest of the first half, Fleet Financial Group's acquisition of Fleet Banking Group.

Merrill also advised Primerit Bank FSB in its sale to Norwest Corp., Minneapolis, the 12th-largest deal through the end of June.

Indeed, without the Wells Fargo deal, Merrill Lynch would have ranked first among advisers.

Lazard Freres & Co. ranked sixth with $950 million in deals, and advised on Fleet Banking Group's sale to Fleet Financial.

Closing out the top 10 were: Sandler O'Neill, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods; Alex. Brown & Sons, and Piper, Jaffray.

Alex Sheshunoff & Co., which finished 14th, advised on 11 deals, the most of the first half. Six of those deals were for bank and thrift acquisitions in the Southwest.

Hovde Financial and Professional Bank Services both finished second in the rankings of advisers by number of deals, with eight each.

Hovde finished 18th at the end of the half, advising on $194 million in deals, a substantial jump from the 44th rank at the end of the first quarter, when the adviser worked on a total of $17 million in acquisitions.

The Wells Fargo deal made the West the most active region in total volume of deals, with New England ranking second, the Southeast third, the Southwest fourth, and the Mid-Atlantic last.

After a slow first quarter, Ryan Beck & Co. jumped to 15th at the end of the first half from 50th at the end of the first quarter.

Ryan Beck finished 15th with $375 million in advisory work by the end of June, most of which came from jointly advising Home Financial Corp. alongside Alex. Brown & Sons in its $341 million sale to First Union Corp.

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