Takeover fever is back.

Fueled by lower stock prices and renewed confidence in the economy, the corporate takeover market is heating up. Just three months after Black Monday, bids and counterbids are being announced daily.

But the players are changing from the takeover boom of recent years. Most of the efforts in the current wave have been mounted by corporations rather than by corporate raiders.

Already this year, several multibillion-dollar bids have been launched, and a number of smaller offers -- primarily hostile -- have been made.

Among the largest deals is Eastman Kodak Co.'s planned $5.1 billion acquisition of Sterling Drug Inc. -- a merger that Sterling accepted Jan. 22 to ward off a takeover by the giant Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche.

The Canadian real-estate development firm Campeau Corp., which in late 1986 took over the Allied Stores Corp. department-store chain, has made an unsolicited $4.2 billion offer to buy Federated Department Stores Inc., the parent of Bloomingdale's and I. Magnin.

And a $4.2 billion bid has been made for Farmers Group Inc. by Britain's BAT Industries PLC.

Locally, Black & Decker Corp. of Maryland has launched a $1.8 billion hostile takeover offer for American Standard Inc. And the takeover fight for A.H. Robins Co., the Richmond pharmaceutical firm, finally came to an end in mid-January when one of its three suitors, American Home Products, upped its bid to $3.275 billion.

Even Washington's Hafts are back in the takeover game, despite the $70 million loss they incurred when the stock market collapse dashed their $6.3 billion bid to buy Dayton Hudson Corp. This time around, the Hafts are taking aim at a smaller target, bidding $840 million for Stop & Shop Cos. Inc., the owner of a chain of supermarkets and of Bradlees department stores.

"What we're seeing is a lot more activity than one might have expected following the stock market crash," said Jim Chanos, a money manager of a private investment partnership. "It's taken people a little bit by surprise."

"It's amazing how all the pundits misread the Oct. 19 crash," said Don Carter, chairman of the Carter organization, the nation's largest proxy-solicitation firm. "Most analysts had assumed the crash would lead to an automatic decrease in the number of corporate takeovers, when in fact the opposite has happened."

In hindsight, however, Wall Street officials today say the reasons for the takeover activity should have been obvious. "The situation is very simple: Stocks are cheap, the dollar is down, liquidity is plentiful, and the confidence in the economy is up," said Barry Friedberg, managing director of Merrill Lynch & Co. As a result, he said, "the takeover market is explosive."

"The core point is that the stock market has reached some kind of equilibrium," said takeover lawyer Arthur Fleischer Jr. "The extraordinary activity we see is to a large measure a belief that there has been some stabilization of values."

Fleischer said there is another factor behind the current takeover boom: a fear of the future. "We're in a period now where there has to be a sense that a possible regulatory change in the United States could result from a new Republican or Democratic administration." That could mean tighter regulatory scrutiny not only of the securities market but also of antitrust enforcement, Fleischer said.

"Many companies are looking at the calendar and deciding if they want to act, they have to act now," Carter said.

Given all these factors, many merger and acquisition specialists predict a booming year for takeovers. "I expect takeover activity in 1988 to exceed 1987 as long as the current conditions hold," Friedberg said. "What could change that is if we have a 700-point rally in the stock market. That would definitely dampen merger and acquisition activity. It would also drop if the economy turns into a severe recession as compared to current prognosis of a flat or moderately down economy."

Not everyone agrees. David Wittig, a managing director of Kidder Peabody & Co., said he believes fewer deals will be done, primarily because there will be fewer leveraged buyouts. In leveraged buyouts, a company's assets are used as collateral to obtain financing to buy the publicly held stock of a company. The assets then are spun off to reduce the debt incurred.

Financing for leveraged buyouts has become more difficult to obtain since the stock market crash, so there will be fewer such transactions, Wittig said.

Merger experts say that no matter how many takeovers occur, the current takeover boom is vastly different from the precrash flood of acquisitions. Today, for the most part, the individual corporate raiders such as T. Boone Pickens and Irwin Jacobs are being replaced as takeover instigators by large corporations.

"The raiders are wearing new uniforms," said Lawrence Lavine, senior vice president of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette. "They are now wearing the colors of corporations -- both American and foreign -- rather than the colors of individuals."

"The big news of this year is that when you look at the transactions completed and announced, they are almost uniformly major corporations making what they would consider 'strategic' deals to diversify and expand their market," said Don Gogel, a managing director of merchant banking at Kidder Peabody.

What's more, Gogel said, today's corporate raiders "are financing their bids off the strength of their own corporate balance sheets and not on the balance sheets of the companies they are acquiring," as many corporate raiders did.

"In 1988, the takeovers we'll be seeing will be diversification plays," said Jack A. Barbanel, senior vice president of Gruntal & Co. "Black & Decker's bid for American Standard and Kodak's merger with Sterling -- those are real acquisitions, with the acquirer looking to diversify into the next decade, looking for good, positive revenue streams." Such transactions run against the trend of the past few years, in which many takeovers were strictly financial plays, with the assets of the target company sold off at a profit shortly after the acquisition.

But that's not to say that the individual raiders have disappeared.

There are the Hafts, of course. And Asher B. Edelman has told Foster Wheeler Corp. he wants to discuss a $577.5 million buyout with the company. Carl Icahn has filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating he is considering raising his 14.8 percent stake in Texaco Inc. Florida financier Paul Bilzerian finally achieved his goal of acquiring a company, winning Singer Co. for $1.06 billion earlier this month.

"I didn't think the end of the takeover business was here on Oct. 19, and I don't think it is here now," Edelman said. With the decline in stock prices, "there are companies that are less expensive than before," he said.

Edelman said, however, that takeover investors now "probably have to have a little more equity than you had to before."

The relatively easy financing that the raiders found before Oct. 19 has tightened the intervening months. "There is less availability and higher costs," Gogel said. Among other things, Wall Street firms have become more reluctant to extend temporary loans, called bridge loans, to raiders to allow them to make their offers and complete the deals while more permanent financing is being lined up.

"I don't know of one bridge loan that was put into place to finance a leveraged buyout since {Oct.} 19," said Kidder Peabody's Wittig. "Raiders are nowhere without bridge financing."

What's more, the high-yield, high-risk junk bond market that previously financed many deals has shrunk considerably since the stock market crash. "The junk bond market hasn't closed down, but it clearly is more expensive than it was three to four months ago," Lavine said.

In addition, experts say, there may be a greater reluctance by investors to buy junk bonds, particularly if the economy appears headed for a slowdown. "The junk-bond market doesn't have the same credibility it had six months ago," Fleischer said.

As a result, individual raiders are finding themselves at an increasing disadvantage against corporations, which have easier access to cash and bank financing when they attempt a takeover.

"The raiders are finding themselves in a difficult position," said investment banker Felix G. Rohatyn of Lazard Freres. "The junk bond market is much more difficult and they are now coming up against big companies that are in the market with conventional financing. It is very difficult for them to compete."

Consequently, the raiders' tactics are expected to change.

Takeover lawyer John F. Olson forecasts more proxy contests, in which raiders try to replace corporate directors to grab control of a company in the board room. He said, "Proxy fights don't require the financing that is required for a tender offer," in which a raider tries to buy all the publicly held stock of a company.

At the same time, merger specialists predict many more takeovers by foreign companies. "With the low level of the dollar, the lower level of the stock market and the accumulation of dollars abroad because of our {trade} deficit, it is almost economically imperative that we will see a major wave of foreign acquisitions of American companies," Rohatyn said.

The wave has already begun, with Hoffman-LaRoche's bid for Sterling Drug, BAT's bid for Farmers Group and Campeau Corp.'s offer for Federated Department Stores.

"There is no doubt foreigners have accumulated substantial amounts of cash in the past five years as the result of the weaker dollar," Barbanel said. "They are looking for bargains and right now, the cheapest place to shop is in the United States."

In contrast to last year's takeover binge, arbitrageurs -- professional speculators who capitalize on rises in takeover stocks -- have been notably quiet this time.

In the past, arbitrageurs often speculated that certain companies were likely takeover targets, and bid the stock up before an offer was announced. But recently, "the arbitrageurs have had no idea a deal is coming," said money manager Chanos.

In some cases, stocks of announced takeover companies climbed $20 after a bid was announced -- a sign that the arbitrageurs were caught off guard.

"They are sticking to the old game of classic risk arbitrage, investing in deals after they have been announced as opposed to speculating on deals before they are announced," Barbanel said.

Aftershocks from Black Monday and a lingering backlash from the insider trading scandals may be contributing to the arbitrageurs' caution, experts say.

"People are a lot more mindful of risks," said one arbitrageur. "The downside in a stock can hardly be accurately calculated."