The "Europeanisation" of banking is taking an unfortunate tilt for the British. So far, more foreign fingers have been trying to get into the UK market than vice versa. The most recent events - Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank's bid for Midland and the Royal Bank of Scotland's announcement that Charterhouse will likely be sold to a foreigner - exemplify a trend. In the last few years the likes of Deutsche Bank (which bought our Morgan Grenfell) and Credit Lyonnais (which bought our Gartmore and the Anglo-Irish Woodchester) have been scouring the Continent. Sporadically, talk arises of foreign interest in Royal Bank, TSB and even Standard Chartered. From our end of things, however, only Barclays has been so bold as to bid in Europe - buying the French L'Europeenne de Banque and the German Merck, Finck and Co. Royal Bank and NatWest, granted, have slipped discreetly into Spain via alliances. Nomura banking analyst William Vincent notes that the Continental banks are advantaged in the bidding game as they have more spare cash and higher stock-market ratings than the UK banks - and so can better afford to bid. With UK banks near their nadir and London the biggest finance market in Europe, there is every reason for ongoing foreign interest. The Midland takeover may not be the last of its type.
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