LISA NAPOLI: The British Bank Barclays is about to propose a merger. It's got its sights on ABN-Amro, the massive bank headquartered in the Netherlands. Our Stephen Beard is following the story. I asked him what's attractive about the Dutch financial giant.
STEPHEN BEARD: ABN-Amro is the Netherlands' biggest bank. It has interests all over the world. It's been the subject of takeover speculation because it hasn't been performing particularly well. And two hedge funds with a stake in the bank have been agitating for a shake-up in the bank, or even a break-up. And, as a result of this, it seems Barclays has stepped forward and said, "We'll be the white knight."
NAPOLI: What would Barclays get out of this? What's in it for them?
BEARD: What appears to be the main interest, as far as Barclays is concerned, are interests in the U.S., in Brazil and Asia. Barclays is a bank which has traditionally grown organically. But as a consequence, perhaps, it's found that its international interests are rather limited. And to get greater exposure to the rapidly growing Asian market, and also to get more U.S. and South American exposure, buying ABN-Amro would be a pretty good route.
NAPOLI: What's the likelihood they're going to go for this, Stephen?
BEARD: Well, in the past ABN-Amro has clung fairly stubbornly to its independence. But it has been weakened by this hedge-fund activity, stirring up discontent among shareholders. Also, I have to tell you this, Lisa, it has just very recently fallen victim to a most-embarrassing heist. A robber got into an ABN-Amro armed not with a gun but a box of chocolates. This smooth-talking thief posed as a wealthy businessman and over a period of some weeks charmed members of staff, lavished expensive chocolates on them, and they gave him the keys to the vault. And he got away with $30 million-worth of diamonds.
NAPOLI: And Barclays is still interested in this bank?
BEARD: Yeah, well, I'd be more interested in taking over the company that made the box of chocolates. They were clearly irresistible.
NAPOLI: It would've worked for me! I know that's for sure! . . . That's Marketplace's European Bureau Chief Stephen Beard.