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What's the substance in the divestment spin?

A BANK EXECUTIVE telling you he sees no prospect of his institution merging with another is a bit like a politician telling you he's quitting to spend more time with his family. Usually it's little more than bluster.

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis assured investors time and again that his bank was not ready for another deal, only to fork out on FleetBoston at the end of 2003. Before him, Sandy Warner and his team at the old JP Morgan used to insist there was no room for mergers, only to sell to Chase once JPMorgan's return on equity hit 20% in the second quarter of 2000.

Now, though, might be one of those times when there's more substance than spin to such talk. When Credit Suisse CEO Ossie Grübel told investors last summer that there was no need or desire to merge Credit Suisse, or bits of it, with another institution, most took it with a pinch of salt, even though one reason Grübel had just forced out his co-CEO John Mack was the latter's greater receptiveness to a deal.

Now Joe Ackermann is giving it a try at Deutsche Bank. Last month, as the bank was releasing its 2004 earnings, Ackermann stated that there was no reason for the bank to consider an acquisition any time soon.

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