BancBoston Robertson Stephens Inc.'s announcement last week that it would cut 37 jobs from its work force may be a sign of things to come at the firm, market watchers said.

The positions, which cover a wide range of business areas, are all junior to mid-level, said BankBoston Corp. spokeswoman Amy Schoendorf.

She would neither confirm nor deny whether the employees had been part of a $400 million four-year retention pool that BankBoston Corp. established for key Robertson Stephens people when it bought the firm from the old BankAmerica Corp. in September.

In addition to the retention pool, BankBoston paid BankAmerica $400 million for the San Francisco-based investment banking firm.

Market rumors suggest the bank may cut as much as 5% of Robertson Stephens' roughly 900 employees, most of whom are based in San Francisco.

Michael McCaffery, Robertson Stephens' chief executive, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. He was in Boston meeting with BankBoston executives, according to a source at the firm.

Mr. McCaffery told the San Francisco Chronicle last week that bank executives had not made a final decision about how many would be fired.

"We are in the process of making sure our cost structure is in line with the current business environment and what we expect the environment to be," he told the Chronicle.

BankBoston's move comes amid staff cuts at firms throughout the investment banking business, whether they are owned by commercial banks or not, because of market volatility that began in July.

The staff reductions began in earnest last month, when Merrill Lynch & Co., the largest U.S. brokerage, slashed 3,400 jobs worldwide.

That is about 5% of Merrill's work force, and some market observers say they believe that the industry leader set the bar for other companies.

In the past 18 months, about a dozen banking companies have bought investment banks, often paying top dollar. Making matters worse for many of these companies today, most of the acquisitions were of hot equity underwriting firms.

The initial public offering market has suffered a major drop amid the current market uncertainty, making cutbacks at these firms all but certain.

A handful of sales and traders have been let go from Bankers Trust Corp.'s Alex. Brown unit in Baltimore, which that bank bought last year for $1.2 billion. More layoffs are widely expected there, too.

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