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European banks (2): Spanish Pharaoh still calls the shots

Euroland's biggest banks? Assets (€bn)
at March 29.1999
   BNP-SG-Paribas 937 Deutsche Bank 522 HypoVereinsbank 406 ABN Amro 380 Dresdner Bank 346 San Paolo Torino-IMI/ Banca di Roma 287 Commerzbank 263 Uni-Credito Italiano/BCI 252 Crédit Lyonnais 228 BSCH 227 Source: Fox-Pitt, Kelton The news of the Banco Santander Banco Central Hispano (BCH) merger in January was at first received with incredulity in Madrid's financial circles: could it be that Emilio Botín, the godfather of Spanish banking, fourth generation heir to the country's largest banking empire and holder, by all accounts, of up to 15% of Banco Santander's equity, was relinquishing the reins of power? But when the dust began to settle on euroland's most recent banking mega-merger, it became clear that Botín had once more stolen a march on the market. "The operation was a good deal more subtle than people might have imagined," says Mariano Colmenar, banking analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in Madrid. "Botín knows that the market is no longer prepared to accept the concept of a family-owned bank. He is also aware that banks need to focus on boosting their capitalization to increase shareholder value. One of the new group's biggest shareholders is Botín and his family, hence from his point of view the merger made perfect sense."

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