Friday, March 23, 2007

Not up for sale

The rumour mill is rife with speculation concerning cross-border mergers between European banks. Publicity surrounding potential merger discussions between Barclays and ABN Amro has led some to speculate that it may force the hand of some of the big American banks (namely Bank of America) looking for potential acquisitions in Europe.

Interestingly, while Barclays may be in acquisitive mode, some analysts suggest that it is a potential acquisition target itself. At the start of the year rumours were rife that Bank of America was interested in Barclays. And now according to a Wall Street Journal report, there are certain factions within Citigroup putting pressure on chairman and CEO Charles Prince to put in a hostile bid for ABN Amro, despite Citigroup earlier stating that it was more interested in emerging markets acquisitions.

Others it seems are more concerned about denying rumours that they may be potential acquisition targets. On Thursday, Belgium's second largest bank, KBC Group issued a press statement saying that despite rumours regarding ING seeking a Benelux alliance, it was not up for sale, or its exact words, "it [KBC] attaches a lot of importance to [its] standalone position, and has a core shareholder group which backs this strategy."

Flying the flag of independence, KBC Group says it aims to be an independent, medium-sized, bancassurer for private persons and medium-sized enterprises, and is investing substantially in developing its UK investment banking and private clients business.

But in this era of renewed pressures for consolidation particularly from shareholders seeking higher returns and greater economies of scale, can any bank really afford to say they are not up for sale?

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