When NationsBank Corp. swallowed Boatmen's Bancshares this year and Mercantile Bancorp. bought two of its St. Louis competitors, other banks in the market trembled.

Small institutions contended they could feed on the scraps the bigger ones didn't want. But that left Magna Group Inc., with $6.9 billion of assets, in a precarious position. St. Louis-based Magna, which has less than one-fourth of its assets in Missouri, found itself sandwiched between two giants.

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