Analysts have been speculating for months about a possible acquisition of Bear Stearns, which has been hurt badly by the subprime mortgage crisis. Even so, Bear chief executive Alan Schwartz said in early January that being acquired is not a strategy for the firm.
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But as the credit crisis has increased, so has the possibility of more bank mergers.
Bank of America agreed in January to acquire battered mortgage lender Countrywide Financial for a knock-down price of $4 billion in stock.
Takeover speculation since then has centered on such banks as Washington Mutual , First Horizon National , National City and KeyCorp.
"Transactions happen when times are good and valuations are high and they happen when times are very difficult and you have some forced sellers," said Sean Egan, managing director of independent credit-rating firm Egan-Jones Ratings, said after the Countrywide acquisition.
"Washington Mutual probably heads up the list (of targets) because they have similar problems to Countrywide," said Egan, adding: "Bear Stearns is an obvious candidate for some sort of transaction."