The merger and acquisition scene has turned into a waiting game. M&A activity in the banking sector shriveled in the first half of 2009, as institutions scratched their heads over what the due diligence reports they ordered really mean, and whether a potential prize might turn into a booby trap down the road.

The dollar volume of deals announced or completed in the first six months of this year amounted to just under $1.1 billion, compared with $61.1 billion in second-half 2008, according to data from SNL Financial LC. Meanwhile, the list of top advisers by deal value shrank to nine from 50 in the second half. The reason: most of the 101 deals struck or announced were too small to need or attract many advisers, observers suggest. "There were not enough big deals," says Andy Senchak, president of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

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