Wells Fargo's shares soared after chairman and chief executive officer Paul Hazen said the company would consider a takeover if the price was right.
Its stock closed up 5%, at $332.0625. About 1.775 million shares changed hands, more than four times the average daily volume.
But analysts said investors were overreacting to a predictable comment by Mr. Hazen to a reporter for Bloomberg News at a banking conference in New Orleans.
"This is what you would expect a chief executive officer to say when asked about a takeover," said Raphael Soifer, an analyst at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co. "This is nothing new for Wells Fargo. Paul's predecessor, Carl Reichardt, had been saying things about a takeover for years."
The stock was trading at $322.75 at about 11:40 a.m. At 11:43, a headline that said Mr. Hazen would be open to a takeover came up on the Bloomberg terminal. By 11:45, the stock was up to $332 even though the full story had not yet run. Five minutes later, Wells' shares were at $347. They eventually traded as high as $350.
"We're in a very speculative market," said Sandra J. Flannigan, an analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. "It's a market where logic doesn't necessarily prevail."
First Union Corp.'s $17 billion deal last month for CoreStates Financial Corp. and this week's $7.1 billion purchase of First of America Bank Corp. by National City Corp. have continued to raise the price tag for acquisition targets.
One analyst, who asked not to be identified, said that even if Wells is for sale he doubts any other banking company could afford it.
The analyst said a buyer would have to pay at least $400 per share, or more than six times Wells' tangible book value. This would value it at nearly $35 billion.
Only six U.S. banking companies have greater market capitalization than Wells. Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Corp., the first- and third-largest banks in terms of market cap, have stayed on the sidelines during the recent acquisition frenzy, and neither was mentioned by analysts as having an interest in Wells Fargo.
Observers said BankAmerica Corp., the second-largest U.S. bank in market cap and the largest banking company in California, would face antitrust problems if it tried to buy Wells.
NationsBank Corp., Banc One Corp., and First Union also have greater market capitalizations than Wells Fargo.
But despite what would be a hefty price tag for Wells, some analysts said a deal was not out of the question, although none thought one was imminent.
A rash of customer defections and technology problems in its 1996 purchase of First Interstate Bancorp "make Wells much more vulnerable to a takeover," said Michael Abrahams, an analyst at Sutro & Co.
Mr. Abrahams said NationsBank could be interested in Wells. But other analysts said it was difficult to imagine the Charlotte, N.C., company making another large acquisition so soon after its August agreement to shell out $15.5 billion for Barnett Banks Inc.
Other analysts mentioned U.S. Bancorp - which lost the takeover battle for First Interstate - and Norwest Corp. as possible acquirers. But a deal by either would have to be a merger of equals as opposed to an outright takeover because both Minneapolis companies' market capitalizations are slightly smaller than Wells Fargo's.