Boatmen's Bancshares is high on many lists of takeover candidates, but as months pass with no deal announced, some are starting to question whether the St. Louis bank is a viable target.

Earlier this month, Boatmen's stock price surged 10% to $44.125 as merger rumors resurfaced. Once again, analysts trotted out the names of potential acquirers - including Banc One Corp., Norwest Corp., BankAmerica Corp., and First Bank System Inc. Boatmen's declined to comment.

Analysts have argued that the $41 billion-asset company is one of the most attractive takeover targets in the Missouri area. It also one of the nation's 25 largest bank holding companies, has strong lines of business and moderate earnings growth.

But this time around, a note of skepticism was sounded. Indeed, the stock leveled off last week, before rallying to close at $44.062 on Friday.

"Boatmen's is a very desirable company, but the price tag that comes with it is very expensive," said analyst Joseph Stieven of Stifel, Nicholas & Co. in St. Louis."And there are very few people who can afford it."

Shortly after Boatmen's stock price and volume surged, Salomon Brothers Inc., issued a report noting that "a takeover is not imminent."

Analyst Michael Plodwick, who has a "hold" recommendation on the company's stock, credited the two-day stock price run-up to buying by company insiders and to an anticipated dividend increase in August.

"Boatmen's has the capability to not only survive, but to prosper as an independent entity," Mr. Plodwick wrote in his report.

Matthew Finn of Burns Pauli Mahoney in St. Louis said that a merger from any bank with Boatmen's would be difficult.

"The biggest thing right now in banking is to take advantage of potential cost savings through marketing efficiencies," he said. "It would be somewhat more difficult to achieve the efficiencies if you look at the potential acquirers."

Another obstacle he noted was that Boatmen's would have "a considerable takeover premium," because of its profitable trust company.

"Because it is attractive, it is a prize," Mr. Finn said. "The problem is what somebody has to pay for it ... the dilution that someone would have to suffer just may be to large."

Mr. Plodwick noted that out of the all the potential acquirers, First Bank System would make "tremendous geographic sense."

"Given its expertise in reducing costs in acquisitions, our analysis suggests that First Bank System could pay the highest price for Boatmen's even on an antidilutive basis."

First Union Corp., Mr. Plodwick wrote, might "find Boatmen's too attractive to pass up ... but does not seem capable of being one of the higher bidders."

Some analysts remain bullish on the company's potential for takeover.

"I think for anyone to think that Boatmen's stock is expensive is wrong," said analyst Michael Mayo of Lehman Brothers Inc. "Its book value is understated because it does not reflect the significant value of its sizable mortgage and trust operations."

Mr. Mayo said the surge in Boatmen's stock came when the stock was inexpensive. In addition to the usual takeover speculation surrounding the company, a well-attended Lehman conference with Boatmen's chief executive Andrew B. Craig helped revive interest in the stock, Mr. Mayo said.

He conceded that he did not foresee a takeover anytime soon, but added that from an investor's standpoint, the takeover speculation "is icing on the cake - not a necessary condition for the stock to appreciate."

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