Merc to hold its course, chief says


Mercantile Bankshares Corp. Chairman H. Furlong Baldwin promised shareholders yesterday that relaxed banking industry regulations won't alter the company's devotion to fiscal conservatism and community banking.

Speaking at the Baltimore bank holding company's annual meeting, Mr. Baldwin said he and the company approve of moves to allow national interstate banking, which would complete moves long under way to dismantle laws that once limited banks to operating within a single state, and to reform the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which restricts banks' involvement in the securities business.

But he ended his discussion of interstate banking by vowing "we will not do one thing differently than we are doing right now" and said that "the demise of Glass-Steagall, whenever and however it will happen, will not change the direction of your institution."

He said bankers that form joint ventures or merge with investment banks will be responsible for maintaining a prudent attitude toward risking capital once they are in league with investment bankers, who traditionally have more aggressive attitudes.

"Investment bankers do not want us as partners for our knowledge of their industry," Mr. Baldwin said. "They want us for our capital, and yet capital is our most precious tangible possession."

Mr. Baldwin said revamped banking regulations leave room for small community banks like the 20 small institutions that Mercantile owns.

Indeed, these institutions have made the holding company one of the most profitable U.S. banks, with 12-month returns on its stock that rank comfortably in the upper ranks of publicly traded regional banks.

Also at yesterday's brief meeting, shareholders approved management's 17 nominees for board seats and its preferred auditor.

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