Bank of Boston Corp. could wind up as a unit of a foreign bank if a big U.S. company doesn't buy the venerable New England institution first, according to Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co.

Bank of Boston's growth prospects are limited by slow economic expansion and fierce competition in its home market. But its strong position in New England coupled with its profitable Latin America franchise could put it in play, a report by analyst Nancy Bush said last week.

She wrote that Bank of Boston would be "extremely attractive to either a large international bank or to one of the domestic giants desirous of international presence."

In her report, Ms. Bush increased her estimates of Bank of Boston earnings per share, from $4.70 to $4.75 for this year and from $5.70 to $5.75 for 1997. The report helped push the stock to a 52-week high Monday of $55.75. At Thursday's close, Bank of Boston shares were unchanged at $55.75.

Ms. Bush said in an interview that several international banks would find the U.S. market "more attractive than their own."

"We already know that ABN Amro bid for Boatmen's," she said, adding that some international banks would "fully be able to pay cash" for a U.S. bank.

Bank of Boston has roughly $1 billion of assets in Asia, mostly related to trade finance; $1.5 billion of assets in Europe; and $11 billion in Latin America, Ms. Bush wrote.

Other analysts were skeptical.

Richard Coleman, who covers banks in the United Kingdom for Merrill Lynch & Co., said it was "improbable" that a European bank would acquire a U.S. bank in the next three years.

"U.K. banks know that consolidation is the name of the game in the U.S.," he said, "but it is a difficult game to play." U.S. banks have lost a substantial portion of their deposits to mutual funds and other financial institutions, he added.

Analyst Sarah Manton, who covers Dutch banks for Merrill, expressed doubt that ABN Amro would go after Bank of Boston. She said Amro's Tier 1 capital ratio "is not that strong" and noted that the company has a history of buying smaller banks.

"It would be easier to bid for a Midwest bank, where there would be geographical overlap and cost savings," she said. She noted that ABN Amro already has a presence in Chicago.

Analyst John Leonard, who covers European and Canadian banks for Salomon Brothers Inc., said some Canadian banks "have been historically opportunistic" in the United States "but the price levels of U.S. banks are out of range for them."

Foreign banks that have acquired U.S. banks include ABN Amro, which owns LaSalle National Corp. in Chicago and European American Bank in New York; Bank of Montreal, which owns Harris Bank in Chicago; HSBC Holdings Inc., parent of Marine Midland Bank, Buffalo; and National Australia Bank, which bought Michigan National Corp.

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