Moving forward with plans to expand its U.S. investment banking unit, National Westminster Bank PLC agreed last week to buy Gleacher & Co. for $135 million.

The London-based giant beat out five competitors, including some U.S. banks, in the bidding for the New York boutique firm, said Eric Gleacher, its co-founder and manager.

Mr. Gleacher, who ran investment banking at Morgan Stanley & Co. for much of the go-go '80s, will become chairman of Natwest Markets North America, the U.S. unit of the bank's corporate and investment banking subsidiary.

National Westminster has made no secret about its desire to expand in investment banking over here. At the same time, it is looking to sell its $31 billion-asset U.S. commercial bank.

Mr. Gleacher predicted that foreign competition would change the face of Wall Street.

"The world of investment banking is changing and over the coming decade a number of large U.S. and international banks will have a profound effect on Wall Street," he said. "We are confident that Natwest will be among that group."

The sale of the five-year-old firm, which has advised on a host of multibillion-dollar mergers, is subject to regulatory approval.

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