LONDON, May 14 — UniCredit has engaged investment bankers, including a former top German official, to advise it on a potential bid to buy Commerzbank , according to three people familiar with the matter.
The people said that UniCredit had engaged Lazard and its banker Joerg Asmussen, the former German deputy finance minister, and JPMorgan on a possible takeover, a deal that could see one of Italy’s largest lenders pivot away from its struggling home country towards Germany.
Although it is unclear whether and when a bid could be made, UniCredit’s top management has long been interested in expanding in Germany, according to people familiar with their thinking. It already owns HVB, a large German lender based in Munich.
But the Italian bank, which has been concentrating on its own turnaround plan that concludes this year, had been waiting first to see the outcome of merger talks between Commerzbank and its larger Frankfurt neighbour, Deutsche Bank. In recent weeks, those talks unravelled, placing Commerzbank back on the agenda for UniCredit Chief Executive Jean Pierre Mustier.
Mustier has now hired Lazard in the hope that Asmussen can lobby for the deal with finance minister Olaf Scholz. Both have roots in the German Social Democrat Party.
UniCredit, JPMorgan, Lazard, Commerzbank and Germany’s finance ministry declined to comment. Asmussen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The success of any deal will hinge in part on the German government, which owns a 15 per cent stake in Commerzbank, stemming from a bailout during the financial crisis. Some officials had hoped to keep Commerzbank in German hands, which is why they pushed for a deal with Deutsche Bank.
One German official said that the government would be open to a merger between Commerzbank and a foreign European rival, such as UniCredit.
But a deal that would tie one of Germany’s biggest banks to Italy, struggling with heavy debts, could ultimately prove hard to sell in Berlin. — Reuters