Now that the Midwest, the Middle Atlantic states, and the Northeast have had major bank acquisitions this year, can the Southeast be far behind?
Analysts and investors clearly hope so.
Stock prices of BankSouth Corp., AmSouth Corp., and to a lesser extent Compass Bancshares have risen rapidly since Fleet Financial Corp. announced Feb. 21 that it would purchase Shawmut National Corp. in a $3.45 billion deal.
"We think there is going to be more merger activity in the Southeast, and sooner or later something big will be announced down here," said Kathryn H. Bissette of Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc.
Since the Fleet deal, shares of BankSouth in Atlanta have risen 8%, and AmSouth in Birmingham, Ala., has shot up 10%. Shares of Birmingham, Ala.- based Compass are up 3%, and the overall American Banker index of Southeastern banks is ahead by 2%.
By comparison, the Standard & Poor's 500 is virtually unchanged for the period.
The Southeast Compact, which prevented out-of-region acquirers from entering the market, will officially be dissolved when interstate banking becomes law later this year.
And as the three major acquisitions this year demonstrate, large deals are back in vogue as banks scramble to gain market share and stretch their geographic reach.
The jewel in the crown may be BankSouth, because of its leading position in Atlanta, home of the 1996 Olympic Games and a financial capital of the South.
"Management has a lot of stock options at the bank and is very shareholder orientated," said Norman Jaffe of Fox Pitt-Kelton.
An acquisition will likely take place sooner rather than later, he added, so the buyer can gain the benefits of the 1996 games.
Shares of BankSouth rocketed the day of the Fleet announcement, but have settled back somewhat since then.
Ms. Bissette believes the regional acquirers - NationsBank Corp. and First Union Corp. - would be more likely to make a play at some of the banks before out-of-region acquirers.
Investors are clearly antsy, said Mr. Jaffe. After investors helped force the sale of Michigan National Corp. to an Australian bank and called for the sale of Compass, merger speculation is rampant, he said.
In the other main transaction this year, PNC Bank Corp. agreed to buy 84 central and southern New Jersey branches from Chemical Banking Corp.
In other news, One Valley Bancorp of West Virginia surged tktk to tktk on volume of tktk, after rising 50 cents on volume of 34,400 shares the previous day. Average daily volume for the $3 billion-asset bank during the last six months is 10,000 shares.
One Valley is the largest remaining independent bank in West Virginia, and as a result is frequently mentioned as a takeover candidate.
The bank had no explanation for the activity.