So much for last week’s rumor of an imminent reduction in the DOJ $14 billion settlement, which sent the price of DB soaring, and propelled the global stock market higher.
Moments ago, Reuters reported that the German government is pursuing “discreet talks” with U.S. authorities to help Deutsche Bank secure a swift settlement over the sale of toxic mortgage bonds.
German officials have, until now, played down their role in the standoff, saying it is up to Deutsche to work out a deal with the DOJ, which is demanding $14 billion to settle RMBS misselling claims. But now it has been confirmed that Berlin government officials are hoping to “facilitate a quick deal that would buy Deutsche Bank time to regain its footing.”
One senior government official told Reuters there was “contact at all levels” between German and American officials. Another source said Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was not planning to meet DOJ officials during a trip to Washington this week for International Monetary Fund meetings, but added: “You can hold talks. It doesn’t have to be the minister.”
Admitting also that, as has been widely known, Germany would not let DB sink, Reuters adds that “officials recognise that Germany’s biggest bank, which employs around 100,000 people, cannot be allowed to fail.”
However, there is a time constrain as the resolution of the crisis through a prompt – and reduced – settlement is crucial for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a federal election next year. It could be “political poison” for her government to rescue a bank that got into trouble through speculating. Which is why Berlin has been hoping that the US will endorse a near-term settlement, somewhere well below the original $14 billion ask.
While most of that is known, one of the sources said that the ideal solution for Germany in the longer term would be a merger between Deutsche and its smaller domestic rival Commerzbank, “even if it would be better to wait several years until both banks were cleaned up before sealing such a deal.“
Berlin has previously declined to comment on the topic of bank mergers. The official’s comments about an all-German tie-up mirror the view of others in Berlin who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, although it is unclear whether they represent official policy in the Chancellery. “We are not Austria,” the official said. “We are the biggest economy in the European Union, one of the world’s leading exporters. We need a big bank with a European and international presence but which is anchored here in Germany.”
Another option is merging Deutsche with a European rival, but “only if Germans controlled the combined entity.”
Meanwhile the political posturing over a potential DB bailout continues: comments on Sunday from Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, accusing Deutsche of making speculation its business, were a signal that Merkel’s opponents will not hesitate to use the Deutsche issue to score political points.
“The German government would face stiff opposition if it decided to help Deutsche Bank,” said Joerg Rocholl, president of the ESMT business school in Berlin and member of an economic advisory board to the German finance ministry. “I would expect opposition parties to seize on this in a massive way to question the credibility of the government in the run-up to the federal election next year,” he added.
The German public is likewise against a rescue: in an Emnid survey for Focus magazine on Saturday, 69 percent of those polled opposed state aid for the bank, with 24 percent in favour. Lawmakers in Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have said they do not want to see the government jump to Deutsche’s aid.
“Deutsche Bank caused these problems itself,” said Eckhard Rehberg, a budget expert in the CDU parliamentary party. “At the present time, I rule out capital assistance.”
There is just one small problem: Deutsche Bank holds over half a trillion euros in deposits on its balance sheet, which means that if push comes to shove, Germans will be begging for a bailout just to have access to their savings.
So why the secrecy in negotiations? Reuters concludes that as the German government considers its next moves, officials say that a number of previous cases involving European firms and U.S. authorities are shaping its approach. In pushing for a settlement with the U.S. DOJ, Berlin is opting for a discreet approach, in part because it saw how France’s aggressive public lobbying several years ago against a $9 billion fine imposed on BNP Paribas for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan seemed to backfire.
Which means that the fate of Deutsche Bank is, at this moment, in the hands of Obama, and while he will certainly relent and not push Europe into a full-blown banking crisis, Germany will “own” the US for the foreseeable future.