By Gernot Heller
BERLIN (Reuters) – German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz on Friday lauded positive developments in the German banking sector in recent months, and said his ministry was not overly concerned about the future of Deutsche Bank <DBKGn.DE>, Germany’s largest bank.
Talk of a possible merger between Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank <CBKG.DE>, the country’s No. 2 bank, has heated up in the past few weeks as both lenders struggle to improve their performance a decade after the global financial crisis.
Asked about the speculation, Scholz told Reuters he never spoke about specific companies, but added, “Perhaps I can add this: No one in the finance ministry is having sleepless nights because of Deutsche Bank – not me either.”
Scholz said Germany needed strong and successful banks to work with the many German firms active around the world. He cited “many positive developments in the German banking landscape in recent months,” but did not elaborate.
Officials at both banks have declined to comment on the merger speculation. They say they want to focus on getting their own houses in order before considering any tie-up.
Scholz’s comments were his most direct to date about a possible merger. He told a banking congress last month that Germany needed a strong banking industry. Those comments were seen by some bankers as a sign that Berlin wanted to support the finance industry and could back a merger.
Scholz’s ministry is looking at ways to increase the competitiveness of German banks, including a possible change to tax laws to make mergers less costly, people with knowledge of the matter said this week.
The government owns a stake of more than 15 percent in Commerzbank after bailing it out during the financial crisis.
Shares in both banks have lost around half their value so far this year amid concerns about their profitability.
(Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Maria Sheahan)