People in the mergers and acquisition market expect NationsBank Corp.'s bid for Boatmen's Bancshares to spark a new wave of activity, particularly in the Midwest.

The spotlight could shift from California - where some big thrift deals punctuated an otherwise quiet summer - to consolidation candidates in Boatmen's backyard.

Among the possibilities are First Tennessee National Corp. and Union Planters Corp., two Memphis-based regionals that would be surrounded by NationsBank upon completion of the Boatmen's deal, said William Houlihan, a managing director at Bear, Stearns & Co.

Such institutions may temper their previously stated preference for independence because "rather than competing with Boatmen's, they're now competing with Nations," Mr. Houlihan said.

The NationsBank transaction is also expected to spur interest on the acquirer side. Potential buyers are First Bank System and Norwest Corp., both of Minneapolis; and Banc One Corp. of Columbus, Ohio. Those three are rumored to have lost the bidding for Boatmen's.

"I have to say there is a fair probability that they will continue to shop around," said John Mason, a stock analyst at Interstate Johnson Lane, Atlanta.

Even before NationsBank announced its $9.6 billion deal Friday, some industry observers were predicting an upsurge in mergers this fall. Earlier last week, investment bankers had said there was much negotiating among bankers this summer that could yield deals after Labor Day. In addition, bankers are still facing some of the major issues, such as cost control, that drove last year's merger boom.

"The digestion of 1995's activity is settling in," said Milton Berlinski, an investment banker at Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Indeed, UBS Securities analyst Thomas Hanley last month published a widely read report identifying banks most likely to be taken over, including Boatmen's. Other candidates in the Midwest included St. Louis rival Mercantile Bancorp., No. 2 to Boatmen's in Missouri; Roosevelt Financial Group, also of St. Louis; and Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee.

But not all say NationsBank's deal will set acquirers to scouring the Midwest.

"I'm not sure there's any deal that otherwise would not have been done that now will be done as a result of this one," said H. Rodgin Cohen, a partner in the New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. "Most of the people that are left have discipline. I don't think anybody's going to say, 'Well, now that that deal's been done, I've got to do a deal.' "

Few anticipated any transactions as big as NationsBank's. Many of the nation's biggest banks are still busy integrating major purchases made last year, observers said.

"I think we could see a few deals, but most major players are still working through some substantive transactions, like Fleet and First Union," said Carole Berger, a bank analyst at Salomon Brothers Inc.

For the latter part of the year, investment bankers are also predicting banks will show a growing interest in nonbanks, like investment management and consumer finance companies. Bank-to-bank transactions would only fuel that fire, as fast-growing institutions will want to offer broader product lines to their customers, said Michael Thomas, a managing director at Lazard Freres & Co.

"That kind of horizontal expansion makes sense, and will continue," he said.

But before banks look at product diversification they must focus on their core business, which in some cases involves buying out competitors.

The NationsBank deal "is sizable enough that it should - hopefully - wake up a few folks that had been toying with making acquisitions," said Scott Edgar, director of research at Sife Trust Fund, a Walnut Creek, Calif., institutional investor. "It certainly rings the bell for a second half of the year (that will) have more activity than the first half."

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