Growth is crucial in mergers
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Growth is crucial in mergers

There are no easy mergers, as Dresdner Bank proved again last month in its failed link-up with Commerzbank. But both this attempt and that between Dresdner and Deutsche Bank were particularly difficult, and their failure ought to be no surprise. Both were defensive deals, aimed at cutting costs and exiting unprofitable businesses – not least retail banking.

The benefits of the deals for expansion were not put forward because there were so few. All three banks are similar entities in virtually the same markets; all that differs is scale. And all three are proud of their role in Germany’s development over the past 50 years. With few obvious new business opportunities being created by these two failed mergers, it was inevitable that they would focus on what they would lose rather than where they were going.

The takeover of Austria’s leading bank, Bank Austria, by HypoVereinsbank, Germany’s third-largest bank by market capitalization, ought to fare better. The deal expands Hypo’s retail presence as well as bringing a strong investment-banking presence in central and eastern Europe. It also allows Bank Austria to retain its name and nominal independence. But both institutions spring from recent messy mergers.

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