With Dresdner Bank AG possibly on the prowl for a U.S. banking partner, industry observers say J.P. Morgan & Co. is the most vulnerable but hardly the only prospective partner.
Bank of New York, Mellon Bank Corp., and BankBoston Corp. are each said to have qualities that could appeal to the giant European bank.
The bank's executives reiterated their desires to the foreign press on Thursday, saying a U.S. banking company would fit well with global aspirations. A deal would follow last month's accord by Deutsche Bank AG for Bankers Trust Co.
As Germany's second-largest banking company, with $455 billion of assets, Dresdner is seen as wanting to boost its international presence and also take the offensive against growing competition in Europe from big U.S. commercial banks and investment banks.
"There are several directions this could go in," said Frank Barkocy, a banking analyst with Josephthal & Co.
J.P. Morgan remains the most talked-up candidate because of its global reach and a lingering weakness could make operations vulnerable to takeover. Morgan shares closed on Thursday at $101.375, off $2.8125, a day after it said its fourth-quarter results would be lower than expected because of weak trading results and a $100 million restructuring charge.
Analysts are not ruling out Bank of New York or Mellon because of the resources they have poured into building sophisticated securities operations that could mesh with Dresdner's technological bent. Bank of New York dropped 25 cents, to $35.50, and Mellon 31.25 cents, to $65.50.
Mr. Barkocy also mentioned BankBoston, a solid regional operation which has well-entrenched Latin American operations that could add to its appeal. BankBoston was off 68.75 cents, to $40.1875.
Speculation about mergers between U.S. banking companies also found its way into the market on Thursday.
Keystone Financial, Harrisburg, Pa., and Mercantile Bankshares, Baltimore, both traded at twice their normal daily volume, prompting speculation about future plans. A teaming could create one of the nation's most-effective regional powerhouses, analysts said.
Keystone closed unchanged at $34.1875, and Mercantile was off 81.25 cents, to $36.
For the day, markets fell on renewed concerns that shares have been overbought, given the fourth quarter earnings outlook. The Standard & Poor's bank index fell 1.39% and the Dow Jones industrial average 1.86%. The Nasdaq bank index shed 0.85% and the S&P 500 was off 1.56%.
Shares of Firstar Corp. bucked the trend, rising $1.25 in early morning trading, then ending the day at $72, up $1.
The Milwaukee banking company is attracting favorable attention as it melds with recent merger partner Star Banc Corp.
Under president Jerry Grundhofer, the market is looking at Firstar to jell "as a terrific operation," said Jay Tejera, a banking analyst at Dain Rauscher Wessles.
"He's got a lot of new material to work with," Mr. Tejera said.