The pending sale of Florida's Barnett Banks Inc., unveiled amid a surfeit of major third-quarter deals, prompts the question of what trophy franchises remain in banking and who might buy them.
The $15 billion that NationsBank Corp. is paying for Barnett, long acknowledged as the nation's most compelling acquisition target, stands as the highest-priced banking deal on record.
After Barnett, some Wall Street analysts think Fleet Financial Group is the leading trophy prospect while others nominate Mellon Bank Corp. Other candidates are BankBoston Corp., PNC Financial Corp. and KeyCorp.
"Fleet is the dominant player in New England. Any acquirer looking to assemble a national banking franchise must look at Fleet," said Brocker C. Vandervliet, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., New York.
Fleet ranks high in "attractive upside potential in the event of an acquisition," said analyst Michael Plodwick of Salomon Brothers.
"Fleet ranks as a particularly hot prospect this year," said analysts at BT Alex. Brown Inc. in a scouting report for their annual exercise in "rotisserie banking."
"Our analysis shows that Fleet would attract the interest of 11 possible acquirers and should receive an average potential premium to market (price) of 54%," they said.
Meanwhile, conjecture about Mellon's future has grown in the wake of its rejected bid to merge with CoreStates Financial Corp. Analyst Thomas H. Hanley of UBS Securities thinks the Pittsburgh banking company is a prime candidate.
"Mellon's vast asset management business, with $286 billion of assets under management, is highly profitable with returns on equity in excess of 30%," noted Mr. Vandervliet.
Bank of New York Co., another leader in nonbanking areas, is seen as a possible merger partner. In such a deal, "the combined company would have one of the highest percentages of fee income of any bank in the country," Mr. Plodwick said.
Of the other companies mentioned, PNC links the East Coast to the Midwest, Mr. Vandervliet pointed out. In market share, it is No. 1 in Pittsburgh and No. 2 in Philadelphia with strong presences in Cincinnati and Louisville.
BankBoston is the market leader in the Boston metropolitan area, he said, "and also possesses unique, high-return, indigenous franchises in Latin America."
KeyCorp, analysts suggest, would no doubt interest any buyer seeking national expansion. The Cleveland-based company holds important market shares in the Northeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, and Northwest sections of the country.
Who are the likely buyers of the remaining trophies? The BT Alex. Brown analysts tried to divine the answers by applying the principles of rotisserie baseball, a game of sports franchise fantasy.
In rotisserie baseball, all players enter an imaginary draft at the beginning of the actual season. All team managers begin with an equal pool of dollars and players are put up for bid one at a time.
Each manager's goal is a dream team of the best players. As the real season unfolds, each rotisserie team's performance is ranked according to the actual statistics of the players involved.
The BT Alex. Brown analysts divided the real banking world into buyers, as the teams, and sellers, as the draftable players. In addition, the buyers were divided into major league teams likely to always be buyers and minor league teams that might either buy or sell.
Besides Fleet, BankBoston and KeyCorp, the top prospects of interest to the most teams are Washington Mutual Inc., Seattle; First Security Corp., Salt Lake City; and Old Kent Financial Corp., Grand Rapids, Mich.
"The average market premium these stocks could receive, based on our model, is nearly 65%," they said. The BT Alex. Brown analysts involved are George A Bicher, Joseph K. Morford 3d, Elizabeth Q. Davis and Jeffrey T. Runnfeldt.
Interestingly, four of the seven banking companies viewed as major league acquirers have recently been inactive. New York's Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Corp. do not have overt "regional" banking strategies. BankAmerica Corp. and Norwest Corp. do, but have recently been on the sidelines.
The active major league buyers are NationsBank, First Union Corp. and Banc One Corp.
The minor league acquirers are Fleet, KeyCorp, Bank of New York, PNC, U.S. Bancorp, First Chicago NBD Corp., National City Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co.
Some otherwise important prospective seller candidates have recently been too pricey for most buyers, the analysts noted, "and many of them could well spend another year in the locker room."
They include SunTrust Banks Inc., Wachovia Corp., BB&T Corp., State Street Corp., Regions Financial Corp., and Amsouth Bancorp.