The earthquake has been felt. Now comes the wait for the aftershocks.
Seasoned banking industry observers believe NationsBank's recent announcement that it is acquiring Boatmen's Bancshares set off tremors that will eventually lead to more deals.
"It was a seismic event. The impact will take time, but it definitely will be felt," said Edward D. Herlihy, a lawyer with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, New York, who is a veteran of many banking deals and counseled NationsBank in the acquisition. "A year from now, the landscape will probably look quite a bit different than it does today," he said.
Already, vibrations can be detected in active trading of stocks of companies like U.S. Bancorp., the Oregon-based superregional, and some southeastern banks seen as prize targets in growing markets.
"I will be shocked if there isn't another major acquisition by the end of the year and quite surprised if there aren't several more," said Michael K. Diana, a banking analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co., New York, who has also worked as a lawyer on mergers and acquisitions.
The $9.75 billion price for Boatmen's startled Wall Street, although the criticism was predictably not shared by Boatmen's stockholders. "NationsBank bought Boatmen's in competitive bidding against some very fine banks," emphasized Miles P. Seifert, chairman of Gray, Seifert & Co., New York.
"They paid 16 times our 1996 earnings estimate of $3.70 per share for one of the better banks in the United States with the top market share in five states and a large and profitable trust department. When (NationsBank chairman) Hugh McColl says this merger will be accretive in 1997, believe him," Mr. Seifert said.
Conjecture about fresh deals has focused on banks widely assumed to have been among the losing bidders for Boatmen's - Banc One Corp., BankAmerica Corp., Norwest Corp., and First Bank System.
But Mr. Diana cautioned that the losing bidders are not necessarily ready to leap at whatever else may be available. The St. Louis company was close to an ideal acquisition from all directions - perhaps the finest of its kind left available in the country.
"Boatmen's was a perfect geographic fit for a bank coming in from the west, like BankAmerica; any bank coming in from the north, like Norwest or First Bank; a bank from the east, like Banc One; or a bank coming up from the south, like NationsBank," he said.
What the NationsBank-Boatmen's deal makes clear, he said, is that "anybody who thought the merger game is dead is just wrong."
Another analyst, Michael A. Plodwick of Salomon Brothers, New York, described Boatmen's as one of an elite group of "trophy franchises" left in banking after the acquisition boom of 1995.
Others include KeyCorp, Cleveland; Barnett Banks Inc., Jacksonville, Fla.; U.S. Bancorp; and possibly CoreStates Financial Corp., Philadelphia.
Mr. Plodwick said the industry's consolidation pattern could be a replay of the 1995 scenario in New Jersey, where the largest statewide bank, First Fidelity Bancorp., was sold, followed by the second largest, Midlantic Corp. A third, UJB Financial Corp., then merged with and took the name of a competitor, Summit Bancorp.
The Salomon analyst said he continues to believe KeyCorp is a prime target. Earlier this year, he noted that it has "one of the most undeniably attractive franchises in the country," stretching across a wide geographic swath of the country.
KeyCorp has a Northeast presence in New York, Vermont, and Maine; a Midwest presence in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana; and a Far West presence in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Possible acquirers include Banc One, BankAmerica, First Bank, First Chicago NBD, Norwest, or Wells Fargo & Co.
Mr. Diana sees action possible in several states in the Midwest and Southeast. He believes large acquirers want to be in these states, and he expects to see activity "within the next few months."
In Michigan, he sees three good candidates: Comerica Inc., Detroit; Old Kent Financial Corp., Grand Rapids; and First of America Corp., Kalamazoo. In Alabama, the largest banks except SouthTrust are likely targets. In Missouri, Mercantile Bancorp., St. Louis, is a probable favorite.
Tennessee also offers three choice quarries: Union Planters Corp. and First Tennessee National Corp. of Memphis and First American Corp., Nashville.