FRANKFURT (Reuters) - U.S. investor Cerberus, a major shareholder in both Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, is open to a merger between Germany’s two biggest lenders, a person familiar with the matter said on Wednesday, raising the chances of a tie-up.
Speculation of a merger has heightened under the tenure of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who has spoken in favor of strong banks. Both banks have been slow to return to sustainable profitability since the global financial crisis.
“Cerberus wouldn’t stand in the way of a merger,” said the person familiar with the thinking of the U.S. buyout firm.
Cerberus holds 3 percent of Deutsche Bank shares and 5 percent of Commerzbank shares, and was previously opposed to a merger, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Tuesday.
The buyout firm believes there is still room in Germany for two big banks but that it is an open question whether both can turn around their businesses on their own, the person said.
Cerberus hasn’t yet decided on the need for a merger, the person added.
Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank declined to comment. Cerberus representatives in New York didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment outside of normal business hours.
Based on Tuesday’s closing prices, a combination of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank would have an equity market value of almost 25 billion euros ($28 billion).
Deutsche Bank has more than 20 million personal and business customers, and Commerzbank around 18 million.
Cerberus is among the largest shareholders in both banks after buying stakes in 2017. Since its purchase, shares in Deutsche Bank have fallen 51 percent, while those of Commerzbank have lost 39 percent of their value.
Early afternoon in Frankfurt, Deutsche Bank shares were flat, while Commerzbank was up 1.2 percent.
Cerberus is the second-largest investor in Commerzbank after the German government, which holds a stake of more than 15 percent after a state bailout.
Finance Minister Scholz’s team has met frequently with executives of Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and major shareholders, including Cerberus.
A merger between the two banks has appeared more likely since last month when two people with the knowledge of the matter said time was running out for Deutsche Bank to turn itself around on its own.
But some major shareholders see no need for a deal.
“We do think there’s merit in patience,” a person familiar with the thinking of one top-10 Deutsche Bank shareholder said on Wednesday. “We are not in the camp of people that say both Commerzbank and Deutsche wouldn’t be able to survive on their own.”
Both banks are in the process of restructuring, and executives at both lenders say privately they would prefer to remain independent to carry out those plans.
Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing, who took the helm last year in a sudden management shake-up, has repeatedly said in public that he is focused on the bank’s “homework” - returning the bank to profitability.
He announced job cuts last year and moved to slim down the sprawling investment bank division. The bank posted a profit in 2018 for the first time in four years.
Deutsche Bank’s biggest shortcoming is its weakness in its home market, which is different from a Barclays in Britain or a Bank of America in the United States, said Fitch analyst Christian Scarafia.
But a merger with Commerzbank wouldn’t necessarily solve Deutsche Bank’s problems. “Any merger of that size would probably give rise to quite a bit of execution risk in the integration,” Scarafia said.
Editing by Thomas Seythal and Mark Potter