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5 Ways Bank Mergers are Changing

"The small- to mid-cap banks have greater prospects for impactful M&A for both buyers and sellers and as a result the opportunity for more impactful cost savings and earnings leverage. The SMIDs have no Euro exposure, no initial Durbin impact for less than $10 billion banks , and the ability to take market share from the larger banks, in our view," writes Harralson.

Meanwhile, potential bank investors looking for an M&A catalyst should have a healthy amount of skepticism. "While there has been some M&A activity over the last few quarters, we believe a major uptick in activity is unlikely unless shares of potential buyers show material improvement and/or seller expectations become more realistic," writes Robert S. Patten of Morgan Stanley in a January research note.

"If you are looking at an M&A trade, you have to be careful," adds McGratty of KBW.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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