The case for a corona consolidation of European banks and insurers

Many European banks and insurance companies are trading well below their book value.

Large firms can unlock a lot of value by taking over smaller competitors, thanks to the negative goodwill. Consolidation would support the profitability of the financial industry.

Italy

Italian banks in particular would benefit from a consolidation of their fragmented domestic market1. In February, Intesa Sanpaolo launched a bid for UBI Banca. UniCredit should consider a similar deal with Banco BPM, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena or BPER Banca. Also, French BNP Paribas could merge its subsidiary BNL with one of those banks.

Spain

Spanish banking is already quite concentrated. Santander took over Banco Popular in 2017. The integration was completed in 2019. Santander and BBVA could acquire Bankinter, Bankia, or Banco de Sabadell. Of course, further domestic growth of the majors depends on regulatory approval. The two global Spanish banks definitely have the expertise to execute such an operation.

Figure 1 shows the number of bank branches relative to population for Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. It’s clear that Italy and Spain have a lot of potential for cost cutting.

Figure 1: Commercial bank branches per 100,000 adults in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Source: World Bank.

Portugal, Poland and the Netherlands

In neighbouring Portugal, Banco Comercial Português seems a good match for Santander. Especially since both Iberian banks are active in Poland. Speaking of Poland, Santander and ING might be interested in mBank. mBank is owned by Commerzbank, a bank that desperately needs to focus its strategy.

A foreign group could shake up the uncompetitive Dutch market by buying ABN AMRO. However, as most of ABN AMRO is still state owned, this will be complicated.

Insurance

Many listed insurers like Aegon, NN Group (NL), Ageas (BE), Baloise, Swiss Life (CH) or UnipolSai (IT) trade at a significant discount to their book value. This could be an opportunity for big insurance companies AXA, Allianz and Zurich Insurance Group.

Consortiums of buyers could also divide the operations of their targets (although there is a bad precedent for this scenario).

Exciting times!

Update 9 June 2020: Banco Sabadell plans to close 235 branches

  1. So would German banks, but the banking mess in Germany deserves a post of its own.

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