More bank mergers loom as Bankia, Caixabank eye big savings

MADRID (Reuters) - Caixabank and Bankia are set to agree a merger to create Spain’s biggest domestic lender in the coming days, two sources told Reuters, in a deal expected to lead to hundreds of branch closures and kick off a new wave of industry consolidation.

Banks across Europe are struggling to cope with record low interest rates and the economic downturn sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading analysts to predict more tie-ups to cut costs.

Bankia BKIA.MC, which is state-controlled after a 2012 bailout, and Caixabank CABK.MC said late on Thursday they were in talks over a merger that would create a lender with more than 650 billion euros ($770 billion) in assets.

Bankia shares soared around 30% on Friday, while Caixabank’s were up about 14%.

Analysts said the main driver of the deal would be cost savings, with Exane BNP Paribas estimating mass closures among the banks’ combined 6,000 branches.

“We estimate around 50% of Bankia’s branches could be closed and central services could be materially reduced. Based on the average cost per employee and branch, we estimate 1 billion euro cost savings, which should lead to around 3 billion euros in restructuring charges,” the French broker said in a note.

Bankia and Caixabank declined to comment on Friday about their talks, or when they might conclude.

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Though the number of major lenders in Spain has already dropped to 12 from 55 since the 2008 financial crisis, the European Central Bank’s (ECB) more lenient stance on capital requirements since the pandemic could lead to more deals and shrink the number to single digits, Spanish bankers have said.

On Tuesday, ECB Vice President Luis de Guindos said national and cross-border consolidation should start soon to boost the battered profitability of the sector..

In May last year, Spanish mid-sized lenders Liberbank LBK.MC and Unicaja UNI.MC called off merger talks, though they have said they are open to analysing consolidation options.

On Friday, shares in both banks were up almost around 9%, while Sabadell SABE.MC was up around 10%.

Under current plans, Bankia Chairman Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri would become chairman of the merged group, while Caixabank Chief Executive Officer Gonzalo Gortazar would be its CEO, the sources said.

The all-share deal is still being finalised, but based on Thursday’s market capitalization the state’s 61.8% stake in Bankia could fall to around 14% of the new entity, while Caixabank’s foundation, its main shareholder, would have around 30%, the sources said.

The combined group would have 30% of the Spanish market, according to Jefferies analysts, leapfrogging Banco Santander SAN.MC.

($1 = 0.8445 euros)

Reporting by Jesús Aguado; editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Potter