For those of you who haven't been paying attention for the last few weeks, here's a quick review.
The mortgage lender Countrywide Credit Industries, everyone knew, was courting Washington Mutual Inc., but the thrift has had its eye on Houston-based Bank United Corp., which may or may not be looking to resume its own acquisition strategy.
Not to be outdone, fellow Houston bank CNBT Bancshares, which says it has been evaluating a takeover offer from an unidentified suitor, is closing in on a decision. Its short list of buyers, or so the story goes, includes Wells Fargo & Co. (which like Wamu seems to be on everyone's short list) as well as BOK Financial Corp. of Tulsa.
Of course, BOK Financial might also want to consider its options: Oklahoma is one of three states Wells Fargo has said it would like to enter through acquisition, the others being Kansas and Missouri, even as it uses "fill-in" deals to build market share in Iowa, Nebraska, and, yes, Texas.
Got it? Good. Now forget it.
Despite all the very serious flirting and positioning that's been going on, the stars are not yet in alignment to allow a major burst of dealmaking to take place. Even the folks who want the deals to happen concede this.
This is not at all to say that some banks will not take the plunge. Indeed, there are some banks that analysts and investors rank among the likeliest to pair up.
Few doubt Wells Fargo, given its stated intention of expanding through incremental pickups and its ongoing success doing so, appears a lock to tack on the planned three-state addition to its existing 23-state territory.
Of banks considered to be "in play," Bank United is generally viewed as a leading contender to close a deal soon. Its top executive team, led by former Salomon Brothers trader Lewis Ranieri, shopped the bank around in 1994, one M&A adviser recalled. And several analysts who follow the company said Mr. Ranieri, a dealmaker himself, could well be looking to cash in.
One incentive for Mr. Ranieri may be the depressed market for bank stocks - the very factor that has tied his hands as a buyer. All stock deals give acquisition targets a chance to essentially "buy low" the shares of the companies acquiring them - a kind of turnaround that might appeal to the dealmaker in Mr. Ranieri.
There are indications some of the sleeping buyers are growing restless. Union Planters Corp. rejoined the game, albeit dipping its toe in, by announcing a small purchase that would modestly expand its local market. And Bank United executives have hinted that a better stock price is all that is holding them back from resuming their own acquisitions.
None of the banks whose names are making the rounds - with the notable exception of Wells Fargo - have come out and confirmed their courtship efforts. Countrywide has yet to confirm reports it has hired an adviser to assist it in a strategic review, though chairman Angelo Mozilo has made it clear the company no longer is opposed on principle to a sale - a comment that led several analysts to conclude that Countrywide was, indeed, a consolidation candidate.
In a recent conference call, chief executive Barry C. Burkholder told analysts he was "optimistic" that the door would soon reopen for deals, given the possibility that an end to the Federal Reserve's monetary tightening cycle and a corresponding boost to earnings would reinvigorate the bank's stock price.
Until then, he said, "We're still entertaining people. We're still in the hunt."
But those with perhaps the most at stake, those in the M&A business, are cautious at best. One adviser said no deal he was working on was likely to come to fruition for at least several weeks. "We're still in the dog days," he said.
When the deals do resume, he said, the first wave would almost certainly pick up where the last left off, with asset management companies, firms with about $6 billion to $8 billion or more under management, and prices ranging around $1 billion, give or take a half-billion.
Sensible, perhaps, but certainly nothing as interesting as a summer's worth of gossip.