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U.S. Banks Eye Euro Bargains

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Europe is on sale and U.S. financial companies appear interested in finding some bargains amid the distress.

"There's been a concerted effort from some of the larger U.S. banks to put aside resources to go after European players -- not only at the individual or at the group level -- but to actually consider acquiring European banks and/or funds," says Gustavo Dolfino, a New York-based headhunter with Accretive Solutions.

Rochdale Securities analyst Dick Bove also expects to see big U.S. banks grow their asset management arms in Europe, and that means buying entire companies, or at least divisions of companies. Bove also expects stiff competition for unsexy but highly profitable and steady back office businesses such as custody and payment processing.

State Street Corp. (STT) has provided a recent example of both types of deals. It bought Intesa Sanpaolo's securities services business, with operations in Italy and Luxembourg for nearly $2 billion in May. Then, on Oct. 22 State Street announced a $79 million deal to buy Bank of Ireland (IRE)'s asset management unit.

"In my mind there's no doubt about it. There will be constant pressure on the part of the American banks to make acquisitions of people and those types of businesses," Bove says.

While adding selected talent may make sense in investment banking and trading, "If it's an asset management company it makes sense to acquire the whole company because you can't basically steal enough people to have an impact," Bove says. "The European banks will be selling their asset management divisions in order to generate capital."

Large scale acquisitions of European banks by U.S. ones appear less likely to Sandler O'Neill analyst Jeff Harte, but Harte believes things are clearly picking up on the hiring front.

"There's been a general tone for the investment banks to kind of re-push for growth in Europe after a number of years of retrenching," he says.

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