As investment banks increase their share of the syndicated loan market, so blurs another of the lines distinguishing Wall Street investment houses from commercial banks — except when it comes to how the companies account for those activities.

Last week that difference became more than an academic matter to many investors. Take the market’s response to the most-talked-about problem loan of late, a $1.7 billion facility to Sunbeam Corp. that is widely believed to be behind the simultaneous announcements by First Union Corp. and the Bank of America Corp. that their nonperforming assets would jump in the fourth quarter. They weren’t the only banks in on the beleaguered deal, which soured just months after it was arranged in March 1998 by its three lead banks — the old BankAmerica Corp. (now Bank of America Corp.), First Union Corp., and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.

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