Wells Fargo and Barclay's rumoured to be in merger talks

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Monday, January 10, 2005

Sunday Express, a tabloid newspaper from the UK reported an anonymous source claiming to be an insider to merger talks between Wells Fargo Bank and Barclays Bank.

The rumoured merger would be a radical break in the kinds of mergers Wells Fargo has done and has said it will continue to do (it is assumed that Wells with the higher market capitalization would be the buyer).

Wells Fargo has previously shown no desire to engage in retail banking outside the United States, and has only expanded internationally in its Consumer Finance business and with certain business services.

Wells Fargo currently has a market value of 100 billion, while Barclays is worth 70 billion. The wire services such as Reuters immediately wrote articles about the rumour. Barclays refused to comment on market speculation (it is standard for all corporations to consistently refuse to comment on all merger speculation).

No reporters have so far been able to reach Wells Fargo for comment. It is claimed that talks have been ongoing since October, although they are said to have stalled and then resumed.

There is however the possibility that Wells Fargo and Barclays could be contemplating a business line sale, instead of a full on merger. One possibility is Barclays selling its "Barclays Global Investor" division back to Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo (under old management prior to the 1998 merger of Wells Fargo and Norwest Bank) previously sold its Asset Management (mutual fund) business to Barclays in 1995. Renamed Barclays Global Investors, this business remains headquartered in San Francisco, and still has some connections to Wells Fargo's new mutual fund business.

Wells Fargo has a long term goal of deriving around 25% of its revenue from investments and insurance; currently it derives around 15 percent of its revenue from this. The purchase of Barclays Global Investor would significantly move Wells Fargo toward achieving this goal.

Another possibility is Barclays buying the private label (or store branded) credit cards of Wells Fargo Financial. In November, Barclays acquired Juniper, a fast growing player in the US private label credit card business.