Deutsche bank said to intensify discussions over strategy

Deutsche Bank AG held frequent talks with the government and its main domestic competitor over the past months as concern mounted that Germany’s largest lender may not be able to emerge from its crisis without outside help.

Representatives of Deutsche Bank had about two dozen discussions with officials since the new government was formed in March, most of them between Deputy Finance Minister Joerg Kukies and Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing as well as supervisory board Chairman Paul Achleitner, according to a Finance Ministry letter seen by Bloomberg. Sewing also met regularly with Commerzbank AG CEO Martin Zielke, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The frequency of the talks, which included discussions of “strategic options,” according to the Finance Ministry letter, highlights the sense of urgency in Berlin and Frankfurt as Deutsche Bank struggles to reverse years of losses and declining revenue. The shares of both lenders lost more than half of their value last year, stoking speculation about a merger. Commerzbank, the country’s second-largest listed lender, is still part-owned by the government after a bailout.

Talks between Sewing and Zielke in past months included the topic of a potential merger, though such a move wasn’t officially on the banks’ agenda, according to Handelsblatt, which reported the meetings between the two executives earlier.

Deutsche Bank fell 0.2% at 11:42 a.m. in Frankfurt trading, while Commerzbank declined 2.2%.

A merger “will only become more likely if there are signs that the turnaround of the investment bank will not be successful under CEO Sewing either,” Independent Research analyst Markus Riesselmann wrote in a note on Monday. “The soon-to-be-published fourth-quarter results are unlikely to provide evidence for such a turnaround.” Riesselmann says for now, a merger is unlikely.

Still, the government would back a potential deal between the two banks, people familiar with the matter have said. It has recently discussed plans with executives including Sewing how to assist in a potential merger, Bloomberg News reported last month.

Representatives for Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and the Finance Ministry declined to comment.

“The German government is open to economically sensible options,” the Finance Ministry wrote in its letter, in response to questions from a member of Parliament who had inquired what the government’s stance was regarding a potential merger of the two lenders.

Other executives participating in the meetings with the finance ministry include Chief Regulatory Officer Sylvie Matherat, Chief Financial Officer James von Moltke, investment banking head Garth Ritchie and Asia head Werner Steinmueller, according to the letter.

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