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StockBeat: Deutsche Bank - Commerzbank Merger Hits the Rocks

By Geoffrey Smith

Investing.com -- A flurry of news from the banking sector stands out amid a generally weak start to Thursday in Europe’s stock markets.

Sources have told Reuters and Handelsblatt that Germany’s two biggest private-sector banks, Deutsche Bank (DE:DBKGn) and Commerzbank (DE:CBKG), are about to call off their merger talks.

The mooted merger was never the preferred option of either bank, as both are more preoccupied with trying to turn round chronically unprofitable operations. The talks only came about largely because of political pressure from Germany’s finance ministry to ensure the survival of a national champion.

Such logic convinced neither regulators, who feared the creation of a new ‘too-big-to-fail’ bank that would hold German policy-makers hostage, nor the labor unions of both institutions, who feared up to 30,000 job cuts.

Deutsche was up 3.2% on relief at having escaped the nightmare of such a politically charged merger, although the shares’ valuation at only 0.24 times their book value shows that it still has huge challenges ahead. Commerzbank’s are down 2.0%, reflecting the loss of a potential buyer.

Even so, it’s not impossible that a bidding war of sorts could still emerge for the bank: Italy’s Unicredit (MI:CRDI) SpA and Dutch-based ING (AS:INGA) have both indicated interest, according to recent reports, and BNP Paribas (PA:BNPP) had also looked at Commerzbank a couple of years back. None of those shares is reacting with any enthusiasm to the notion that they may now be more likely to get their hands on it.

Elsewhere, Barclays (LON:BARC) was down 2% despite a generally decent set of results notable for its investment bank division again faring better than many U.S. rivals in the turmoil of the first quarter. That should bolster the position of CEO Jes Staley, who will face a motion at next week’s shareholder meeting to admit activist investor Edward Bramson on to the board. Bramson is pushing for the investment bank to be scaled back drastically.

Meanwhile, Royal Bank of Scotland's (LON:RBS) shareholder meeting was preceded today by news that CEO Ross McEwan is to step down. He’ll still serve for the next year. Under McEwan, RBS has returned to profitability and settled most of the governance-related scandals that plagued it for the last decade.

None of this is stopping a wave of profit-taking in markets across the continent, however, The benchmark Euro Stoxx 600 was down 1.10 points, or 0.3% at 389.78, while the FTSE 100 was down 0.5% and the German DAX down 0.3%, depressed by more gloomy statements from central banks in Canada and Japan, and by weak economic data out of South Korea.

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