MUNICH/FRANKFURT Spanish retail bank Santander is looking at taking over Dresdner Bank, according to sources familiar with the matter, as the field of would-be players in Germany's bank merger frenzy grows.
The German banking industry is the throes of talks that could see some of the country's biggest names change hands this year.
Top retail bank Deutsche Postbank is up for sale while insurer Allianz is looking to spin off loss-making Dresdner. Meanwhile Citigroup is selling its retail business here.
Commerzbank, Germany's second-biggest bank, is already in advanced talks about a deal with Dresdner, whose retail business alone is estimated to be worth about 8 billion euros ($12.46 billion).
But some foreign banks are keen not to miss a rare chance to get a foothold in Europe's biggest economy, whose banking market is largely closed to outsiders because of the dominance of not-for-profit community savings banks.
Three sources familiar with the situation told Reuters on Thursday that Santander may bid for Dresdner, sending Allianz's shares up 1.2 percent by 5:18 a.m. EDT.
"The process is still in its early stages and there is no indication yet of who might have the best cards," said one.
The advances of Spain's biggest lender will unsettle Germany's flagship lender, Deutsche Bank, which does not want to see a foreigner muscle in on its home turf.
Sources familiar with the matter said Deutsche was conducting its own examination of Dresdner with a view to buying it.
Santander has won a reputation for being one of Europe's most acquisitive banks after expanding strongly in Latin America and then pulling off the first major cross-border takeover in Europe when it bought a British mortgage lender in 2004.
Last year, the Spanish bank bought Brazil's Banco Real and Italy's Antonveneta in a break-up of ABN AMRO.
With Chairman Emilio Botin saying he is open to "bargains", many analysts expect it is only a matter of time before the bank starts buying again.
Allianz, Santander and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Nann and Jane Barrett; writing by John O'Donnell and Jonathan Gould; Editing by Louise Ireland)