Bear Stearns Nearly Loses Its Rising Star - TheStreet

In the midst of Wall Street's merger mania, a talented analyst is worth a good fight.

Amy Butte, the

Bear Stearns

(BSC)

research analyst with enough star power to move stocks and to warrant a

Wall Street Journal

profile this summer, is back at Bear after a brief visit to

Banc of America Securities

, a

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

unit, according to two people familiar with the situation.

On Monday, Sept. 11, Butte checked out the new digs at B of A's New York office after accepting a job to cover brokerages for the firm, according to one person with firsthand knowledge of the move. But instead of returning there on Tuesday, her start date, she headed back to Bear, where she's earned her reputation as an up-and-comer with decisive calls on stocks such as

Knight Trading Group

(NITE)

, which she started in January with an unattractive rating, a rarity on the Street.

Not surprisingly, neither Butte nor the companies involved have too much to say about this little flip-flop. Reached by telephone after a barrage of phone calls, Butte said only, "I'm not available to talk," and directed questions to Bear's public relations staff. But Bear spokesman Russell Sherman didn't return repeated calls requesting comment. And Banc of America spokeswoman Susan Stanley would say only that Butte "was never an employee of Banc of America Securities."

Jump Back

Jumping back and forth isn't anything new on Wall Street, where firms will quickly swallow their pride, and open their wallets, if it means getting back a high-profile analyst. But a one-day turnaround is still enough to turn heads. And Butte's decision to return to Bear comes at a time when plenty of

sell-side research analysts are considering new jobs thanks to the big Wall Street mergers, which are leaving some without jobs and others with new bosses they don't care for.

One Wall Street recruiter says a move like Butte's isn't uncommon for two reasons: "One is the incredible competition for talent, which keeps firms focused on even those people who have resigned officially and gone to another firm. The firm that they left will continue to call them and continue to pursue and will likely put additional counteroffers on the table," says Joan Zimmerman, executive vice president at recruiting firm

GZ Stephens

. "Moreover, there are situations in which analysts find for one reason or another they strategically made a wrong decision."

This trend has even moved to executives. Last summer,

TD Waterhouse

(TWE)

lost President Frank Petrilli to

E*Trade

(EGRP)

, only to

get him back a week later. Christopher Shilakes, a

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

software analyst, grabbed headlines when he went to

Robertson Stephens

for a few months in 1996 before returning. He's still at Merrill.

And It's Not Over Yet

More jumping -- even if it's not back and forth -- is in the works.

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

(DLJ)

is expected to lay off many in its equity division because of its pending acquisition by

Credit Suisse First Boston

, while

PaineWebber

(PWJ)

is in a similar position, with

UBS

(UBS) - Get Report

taking it over. Only

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

and

Chase

(CMB)

aren't expected to have too much overlap in equity research, but given the different cultures, some people may not hang around.

Butte is one of Bear's highest-profile analysts: Her coverage of financial services stocks like Knight and Merrill got her mentioned as a rising star in both the

Institutional Investor

and

TheStreet.com

analyst rankings. In addition to her Knight call on Jan. 26, she pointed to PaineWebber and Merrill as takeover candidates. Things didn't turn out too well with Knight -- the stock has since risen and she's changed her rating to neutral -- but her standing got a boost with the PaineWebber deal. Butte would have been covering the brokers at B of A and been its first brokerage analyst in recent years. (Bear hasn't done recent underwriting for Knight, Merrill or PaineWebber.)

Banc of America has struggled to build up its ranks since some of its best walked out the door not long after the firm, then called

Montgomery Securities

, was acquired by

NationsBanc

, now called Bank of America, in 1998. On Sept. 18, the brokerage announced that it would expand its equity operations, adding coverage of 90 to 100 new companies based on new analyst hires.

At the time, Tom Thornhill, global director of equity research, said, "We continue to be in a hiring mode, focusing especially on improving our coverage of growth sectors. We've also been successful growing talent and building up our bench strength internally, and that remains a top priority."

Looks like B of A lost this round.

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