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Boutique investment bank

Cowen's

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disappointing market debut Thursday bodes badly for other small investment firms looking to sell shares to the public.

Cowen's fade leaves executives at

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

,

Ryan Beck

and

Evercore

-- three investment firms that all filed for initial public offerings this year -- in a difficult position. The poor debut for Cowen, which saw its shares price below the expected range, could force other investment firms to either delay or scale-back their IPOs.

"Waters have been tainted pretty dramatically with regards to Ryan Beck, Evercore, and Keefe Bruyette," says David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com. "This has been a severely negative hit for the financial services sector."

In fact, at least one firm, Ryan Beck, is seriously considering delaying its IPO, say people familiar with the New Jersey-based brokerage.

Cowen's problems began on Wednesday when the investment banking arm of France's Societe Generale was forced to price the shares for its offering at $16, below the anticipated range of $19 to $21 a share. The lowered price meant Cowen could only raise $179.5 million from investors, less than the estimated $212 million Societe Generale had been seeking.

The firm's woes continued Thursday, when its shares fell with the start of the trading day. At one point, the stock was down as much as 4.7%, or 75 cents. It had recovered some by the afternoon, recently trading at $15.84, a decline or 16 cents, or 1%.

Even before Cowen's lackluster performance, sources say jittery executives at

BankAtlantic

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, which owns virtually all of Ryan Beck's shares, were rethinking their options. Market sources say BankAtlantic is considering delaying the IPO. The bank, whose underwriter is

J.P. Morgan Chase

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, is looking at the possibility of simply putting Ryan Beck up for sale, these sources say.

Ben Plotkin, Ryan Beck's CEO, declined to comment about delaying the IPO, referring to the mandatory quiet period during the company's registration period. Jim White, BankAtlantic's CFO, declined to comment on the possibility of a sale, citing the same reason.

Observers say that, of the three boutiques coming public, Ryan Beck's situation is most similar to Cowen's. The firm is breaking off from a larger parent company, and is not getting any of the proceeds of the offering.

Since BankAtlantic hasn't set the price range for the Ryan Beck IPO, it could theoretically continue to push back the IPO and renegotiate selling terms without formally announcing any postponement, Menlow says.

"It's not a great way to bring anybody public," says David Menlow. "I would say that prospects have been dramatically damaged for Ryan Beck."