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North America

The Americans have learned some painful lessons about mergers. The Canadians have been told they can't merge. Fifth Third Bank is successful where others aren't, and TDM in Canada shows the rest how to acquire and integrate. Antony Currie

United States

Best domestic bank: Fifth Third Bank

Best foreign bank: HSBC

Best domestic equities house: Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

Best foreign equities house: Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

Best domestic bond house: DLJ

Best foreign bond house: TD Securities

Best domestic M&A house: Goldman Sachs

Best foreign M&A house: Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

George Schaefer has a very simple recipe for banking. "We buy money at 4%, sell at 8%, and don't get involved in every new fad," says the CEO of Fifth Third Bank. You might think that's the sure-fire way to kill off your bank, but Fifth Third is by far the most successful bank in the US as measured by profitability, shareholder value, customer contentment, staff retention, successful mergers and a host of other criteria.

The bank, which is one of the top 15 in the US by market capitalization, has increased earnings every year for 26 years - the last 10 of which have involved double-digit growth - and has average earnings growth of 17.5% for the past 26 years. It boasts the best expense ratio in the business, at 40% (the norm is 55-60%), has a P/E ratio double the industry average, and is rare in that it only acquires other institutions if they add to the bottom line.

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