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LONDON/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) is considering scaling back its Italian retail operations by selling branches and cutting jobs, as its new chief executive overhauls the company to keep pace with rivals, according to five sources familiar with the matter.
CEO John Cryan is under pressure to reform Germany's flagship bank to reduce costs and boost profitability, after costly litigation from a series of scandals and the fallout from the Asian market rout pushed its valuation well below competitors such as Credit Suisse CSGN.VX and UBS UBSG.VX.
Italy is Deutsche Bank's second-biggest European retail business after Germany, with 4,000 staff and around 300 branches. The review could lead to a large reduction of its operations and pave the way for a possible exit from the country further down the line.
A Milan-based spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank said on Tuesday the German lender was still committed to Italy, which "remains a key market for Deutsche Bank and any rumors about an alleged withdrawal are completely unfounded."
But some of Deutsche Bank's top shareholders are critical of its presence in retail banking in the euro zone's third-biggest economy. "It's a sub-scale business," said a fund manager at a top-10 shareholder, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They don't really earn money there and costs are high.
"The Italian market is consolidating and Deutsche Bank simply does not have the power to expand their business there," the fund manager said. "Instead, they should use the opportunity to get rid of their retail branches."
The manager argued Deutsche was wasting shareholders' money by maintaining its Italian presence, also pointing to its retail networks in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Poland as no longer needed.
"They should focus on restructuring the core bank and avoid a capital hike," he said, referring to the risk that the bank could tap shareholders for fresh funds.
The bank announced a record pretax loss of 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) in the third quarter and warned of a possible dividend cut. Cryan, who became CEO in July with a promise to reduce costs, is due to reveal details of its new strategy on Thursday.
Last year Deutsche Bank took steps to shrink its Italian network and sold 90 branches as part of a sale-and-leaseback deal with a property investor. But a further reduction of its operations would represent a significant step in a country where it has been present since the 1920s and which it has said is profitable despite a difficult market environment.
"No final decision has been taken on what to sell, and how to sell it, in Italy. But Deutsche Bank's presence in the country is no longer seen as strategic," said one source.
The German lender would not be alone in retreating. Other banks including Barclays (BARC.L) and GE Capital have put their Italian units on the block as they shift focus away from certain European markets.
If it seeks to sell branches, one of the sources said Deutsche could tap the likes of ING ING.AS and Mediobanca's (MDBI.MI) retail arm Che Banca, which Reuters has reported have expressed an interest in Barclays' network. But the source cautioned that appetite to invest in branches has waned due to the rise of online banking.
"There are not many buyers out there for bank branches, but those working on Barclays' Italian network are likely to take a look," said the source, who is familiar with Barclays' process.
The overhaul at Deutsche Bank is part of a wide-ranging restructuring at European investment banks, with thousands of job cuts, business closures and billions of euros of capital raisings on the cards.
Deutsche Bank also has a financial advice and investment business in Italy, Finanza & Futuro. It manages 10 billion euros on behalf of around 126,000 clients, according to its website.
There are no immediate plans to sell the lucrative unit but it could be an option if Cryan wants to build up cash, said three of the sources.
"Finanza & Futuro is Deutsche's crown jewel in Italy," said one of the sources, an investment banker who has looked at it in the past on behalf of private equity bidders. "Private equity funds have been circling for a while and remain interested," he said, adding that no sales process was underway. "It will largely depend on whether Cryan wants to avoid another rights issue," another source said. "If a capital buffer is what he needs, then he will probably include Finanza & Futuro in the exit pipeline."
In 2014, Deutsche Bank raised 8.5 billion euros partly from the Qatari royal family. The bank previously raised 10.2 billion euros in 2010 and 3 billion euros in 2013.
Details of Deutsche's restructuring already announced this month include splitting its investment bank in two and parting ways with some of its top bankers. It will also split its wealth management division into one business looking after its super-rich clients and another focusing on institutional clients and funds.
Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Pravin Char and David Holmes