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Merger Hits 'Wall Street West'

The $62 billion merger of BankAmerica and NationsBank will cast a long shadow over California's Silicon Valley.

Scores of major technology companies have been taken public by San Francisco-based investment banks owned by the big banks -- NationsBanc Montgomery Securities and BancAmerica Robertson Stephens.

Now those firms will be owned by a company based in Charlotte, N.C., a long, long way from the heart of America's high tech industry.

Monday's transaction was a major blow to the prestige of San Francisco's Montgomery Street, which had taken on the nickname "Wall Street West" in recent years as red-hot technology IPOs generated huge valuations.

While the firms are likely to maintain offices here, it's clear their powerbase will be 3,000 miles to the east.

"We've got a great capital markets group at NationsBank. The same is true at Bank of America," said NationsBank Chairman Hugh McColl. "We plan to put them together. We've got great people in both places. They've made a lot of money for us, and for themselves."

Just during the 1990s, Montgomery and Robertson Stephens generated more than $11 billion in offerings in which they served as lead managers -- easily putting the combined investment bank into Wall Street's Top 10.

Since it was founded in 1978, Robertson Stephens helped bring forward companies like Sun Microsystems, Excite and, in the biotech arena, Chiron. Montgomery was lead banker for companies like TriQuint, Cyrix and Quarterdeck. But it's also reached deeply into the broader market, handling last year's offering by Avis Rent A Car and Guitar Center.

Montgomery, which more than doubled to 1,400 employees during the 1990s as a result of its success, accepted a $1.3 billion buyout offer last June from NationsBank. BankAmerica bought 750-employee Robertson Stephens about the same time for $540 million.

Now, it's "too soon to say" what will happen to all those Montgomery Street workers, said Robertson Stephens spokeswoman Sarah Ritter. "We just found out about this today," she said.

By Tom Murphy
©1998, L.L.C