BERLIN -- Germany's fourth-largest bank soon may be part of a larger and less-German company.
is apparently losing control over its destiny after the Amsterdam-based
holding company announced it had increased its 9.9% stake in the bank to 17%, via its special-purpose vehicle
In what appears to be an attempt to eventually flip the holding at a healthy profit to a buyer interested in taking over the bank, the two German financiers who control CoBRa,
, seem eager to sell their share regardless of the implications for the bank's future. Not long after announcing the increase to 17%, talk began to circulate CoBRa might try to grab up to 30% of the bank.
Commerzbank has long been considered a prime takeover target in Europe's consolidating banking industry. CoBRa's approach, however, might push the bank to find a partner on its own terms, rather than wait to be flogged off to whomever pays a satisfactory premium to Schneidewind and Vedder. Commerzbank shares in Frankfurt on Thursday were near unchanged, at 41.19 euros ($36.83). In New York, its Nasdaq ADRs were down 1 1/4 to 37. Funds managed by both
Jacobs Asset Management
C.S. McKee & Co.
hold positions in Commerzbank.
Besides hastening the long-anticipated consolidation of the German banking industry, Commerzbank's woes also inadvertently may help further pan-European mergers and acquisitions. Although CoBRa claims its interest is merely a financial one, Schneidewind and Vedder are believed to have recently encouraged Dutch giant
( ABN) to make a bid. If Rebon, however, is able to find a non-German buyer for Commerzbank, other German banks likely would be encouraged to find their own partners abroad.
According to some observers,
( DRSDY), fresh from its failed merger attempt with
( DTBKY), might be sought out by Commerzbank Chairman
as a potential domestic partner. But even though the two banks could consolidate their retail branches in overbanked Germany, such a matchup is considered less than ideal.
CoBRa is likely less concerned with a perfect fit than with increasing its influence and eventually driving up Commerzbank's share price. To that end, Rebon has held discussions with the bank's other major shareholders, Spain's
Banco Santander Central Hispano
( STD) and Italy's
, which hold 4.8% and 5.25%, respectively.
Apparently, Commerzbank's partners haven't yet decided to sell it down the river, but if an appropriate suitor emerges, the cash garnered from their stakes could either help them make their own acquisitions or defend themselves from potential predators.
For the moment some analysts believe the messiness of a potential takeover and lack of a logical partner mean Commerzbank will continue to lumber along despite CoBRa's best attempts.
"There isn't a great takeover candidate, hostile or otherwise, in sight, and Commerzbank doesn't appear to be a very good candidate to be split up" and sold off either, says
, an analyst for
in Dusseldorf. Peter has a neutral rating for Commerzbank's shares.
How much solace Commerzbank's Kohlhaussen can take from such comments is unclear. One can assume, however, he could find more peace with an amiable new merger partner than with the likes of Schneidewind and Vedder.