Banks rule out mergers, and even suggest capital markets expansion

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Capital markets professionals are unlikely to be on the sharp end of any major banking M&A activity within the Nordic region next year, but with more banks looking to raise cash and sentiment increasingly upbeat, they can nevertheless expect to be in demand.

Nordea vice-chairman Bjorn Wahlroos earlier this month dampened speculation that the bank would be enticed into any near-term tie-up with Swedbank, although he conceded in the longer term it could still be an option.

In an interview with Dow Jones, Wahlroos estimated a merger with one of the other big Swedish banks could generate synergies of some €500m a year.

"Banking consolidation in Europe and Scandinavia would essentially be a good thing because clearly there are economies of scale beyond the present size of larger national banks that operate in Europe," he said.

The prospect of a Nordea-Swedbank tie-up has been one frequently talked about, agrees Henrik Schmidt, analyst at Keefe Bruyette Woods.

But Swedbank's two recent rights issues, raising SEK12.4bn last year and SEK15.1bn this autumn, had by and large closed that off as an option for now.

"They would also probably run into a lot of competition problems, not just in Sweden but in the Baltic region too," he adds.

Lower level acquisitions elsewhere in the region are another matter, though, with Wahlroos suggesting there could be further room for activity in Denmark.

The bank in September bought Denmark's Fionia Bank for €121m, following its purchase last year of Roskilde Bank.

"It will, I think, evaluate anything that comes up for sale, though I do not think there is going to be anything substantial," predicts Schmidt.

Sweden introduced a new takeover code in October, while Finland is also developing new M&A rules, moves that local law firms have predicted could lead to a rise in activity next year.

And when it comes to money raising, Denmark's Jyske Bank earlier this month launched a DKK1.2bn rights issue, while Sydbank raised DKK877.5m in September.

"There is quite a lot of activity going on. Nordea is looking to expand its capital markets business and SEB has been doing some selective hiring in this area, as we have heard is DnB Nor. Equities, for example, are still very much in vogue," adds Schmidt.

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