ING Groep NV and UniCredit SpA are lining up advisers to explore a potential takeover of Commerzbank AG after the German lender’s talks with Deutsche Bank AG broke down last month, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Dutch bank is working informally with boutique investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners, while the Italian lender is working with JPMorgan Chase & Co, the people said, asking not to be identified because talks are private. UniCredit also has a long-standing relationship with Lazard Ltd. and Joerg Asmussen, a former deputy German finance minister at the firm, they said.
ING and its rival have held on-and-off again talks with Commerzbank, though no formal negotiations are ongoing, the people said, adding that the process could take months. Representatives for ING, Perella, Lazard, and the German bank declined to comment. UniCredit, in a statement after the market close in Milan, said that it hasn’t signed any banking mandate “related to any potential rumored market operation.”
European lenders are exploring the prospects for a Commerzbank takeover after the failure of talks on a combination with Deutsche Bank made it a target for stronger rivals. While UniCredit and ING already have significant German businesses, acquiring the lender would broaden their access to Mittelstand clients — the small and medium-sized companies that form the backbone of Germany’s economy.
UniCredit Chief Executive Officer Jean Pierre Mustier has sought to downplay any interest in Commerzbank in recent days, saying in a Bloomberg
Television interview that there are too many hurdles to European banking consolidation.
At the same time, the bank
has cleaned up its balance sheet and pledged to bring down its holdings of Italian sovereign debt, reducing risk and making itself more attractive as a potential acquirer.
Reuters was first to report UniCredit’s advisors. The bank, in its statement, said that it was requested by Italian market authorities to comment on the report, adding that it is fully focused on the successful finish of its 2019 strategic plan “based on organic assumptions.”