After tumbling to all-time lows in November following reports that the bank could be facing more criminal penalties as a fresh round of scandals (money laundering tied to the "Paradise Papers" leaks and its involvement in the Danske Bank scandal) hit, Deutsche Bank shares have eked higher in 2019, lifted by plans to slash its bonus pool and by a broad-based rebound that has resulted in the best start to a year for stocks since 2011.
And any investors who had the temerity to by DB during the selloff found another reason to celebrate on Friday when Reuters reported that executives at the troubled Frankfort-based lender had meet with officials from Germany's finance minister more than two-dozen times last year.
Germany’s finance ministry regularly met with top Deutsche Bank executives in 2018 for talks that included topics such as strategic options, a German newspaper reported on Friday.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung based the report on a letter written by a deputy finance minister to a member of Germany’s parliament in response to questions.
Assuming that a potential merger between Deutsche Bank and fellow German lender Commerzbank was the primary subject of these 23 meetings (roughly one every two weeks) is hardly a stretch, given the German Finance Ministry's openly pushing for such a merger. DB's CEO and Chairman attended 12 meetings between them.
An excerpt from the letter, published on the paper’s website and dated Jan. 10, listed 23 meetings in 2018 between the finance ministry and Deutsche Bank executives.
There has been longstanding and widespread speculation that Berlin may try to engineer a merger of Germany’s two biggest lenders, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has helped feed that speculation by stressing the need for a strong German banking sector, a shift in tone from his predecessor.
The letter also responded to a request to evaluate a possible merger between Commerzbank, which is 15 percent owned by the government, and other lenders.
As the government said in a letter about the meetings, they were intended to find "economically viable" and "strategic options" for DB (though we wonder if the bank's still-massive derivatives exposure came up at all).
"The government is open to economically viable options," the newspaper quoted the letter as saying. The letter also said that operational and strategic questions were a matter for executives, the paper reported.
Subjects discussed in the meetings included “strategic options of the institutes and evaluations by the leadership of the finance ministry”, the letter cited by the paper said.
Joerg Kukies, a deputy, represented the ministry at many of the meetings, while Deutsche Bank’s Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing represented the bank at six meetings.
Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank have denied that a merger is in the cards. But given that the government owns a sizable stake in Commerzbank and DB shareholders have proven themselves adept at lobbying with their feet, another bout of consolidation in the German banking industry cannot be ruled out.
That being said, a merger wouldn't solve all of the banks' problems. Commerzbank and Deutsche are both struggle with weak balance sheets and myriad other problems. As the old saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right.