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Dresdner to expand DKB and spin it off

DRESDNER BANK yesterday announced plans to hive off Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, its City investment bank, into a separate legal entity in a move insiders say could lead to a flotation or merger with another European investment bank.

Dresdner, which bought Kleinwort Benson five years ago, said it plans a massive expansion of the operation in the next two years in an attempt to make it a "leading European securities house". More acquisitions to boost the bank's fund-management arm are possible.

The announcement follows the completion of a report into the bank's future by McKinsey, the consultants. The review comes after the $10bn takeover by Deutsche Bank of Bankers Trust of the US in a move that highlighted Dresdner's weakness in investment banking and accelerated the outflow of talent from the company.

Since the Deutsche/BT deal Dresdner has had talks with BNP of France about expanding their co-operation agreement. BNP recently took over Paribas, and is thought not to be averse to merging the French investment bank with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson.

The development of DKB is one of a series of measures outlined in a programme to boost earnings and achieve a 15 per cent return on equity by 2002.

At a press conference in Frankfurt, Bernhard Walter, Dresdner's chief executive, said: "In view of the growth opportunities in the European investment banking business, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson will be built into a leading European securities house." He said the bank would also consider closing some of its 1,500 retail branches to improve profits in domestic retail operations.

The group recently abandoned attempts to merge its retail bank operations with those of its arch-rival Deutsche. Analysts said it was now likely to seek to merge its retail network with that of Bayerische HypoVereinsbank, in which Allianz, Dresdner's largest shareholder, has a substantial stake.

The decision to pour more resources into investment banking will disappoint those of Dresdner's shareholders who believe Dresdner should withdraw from investment banking. However, poor returns in the domestic retail market mean Dresdner has to develop its wholesale operations to compensate.

Half Dresdner's earnings come from investment banking, although the definition it uses includes part of what other banks would treat as corporate and commercial banking.