A window cleaner suspended from ropes cleans a window above a bank branch of Barclays Plc in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

StanChart Says Focus Is on Strategy, Denting Merger Speculation

(Bloomberg) -- Standard Chartered Plc said it’s focused on its strategy and isn’t responding to “speculation” in a newspaper report that Barclays Plc has been exploring a potential merger with the emerging markets lender.

Barclays hasn’t held discussions with Standard Chartered and the British bank isn’t actively pursuing a deal, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking.

Barclays’s directors have been considering “hypothetical combinations” with lenders including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and DBS Group Holdings Ltd., the Financial Times reported Wednesday, citing unidentified people close to the matter. The plans are part of contingency arrangements after the bank was targeted by activist investor Edward Bramson, the report said. He may urge the firm to cut back its investment bank and return more capital to shareholders, the newspaper said.

“We are entirely focused on executing our strategy, and do not comment on this type of speculation,” Standard Chartered said in an emailed statement following the report.

Barclays shares were little changed at 8:20 a.m. in London, while Standard Chartered traded up 1.8 percent.

The FT cited an unnamed person who knows Bramson as saying he’s likely to call for Barclays to return to shareholders much of the 25 billion pounds ($33.5 billion) of capital tied up in its corporate and investment banking division by shrinking the unit.

A potential takeover of Standard Chartered would bring together the transatlantic focus of Barclays in the U.K. and U.S. with Standard Chartered’s concentration on Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

It would mark a sharp reversal in Barclays chief Jes Staley’s public strategy for the bank, which has sold down its holdings in Africa under his tenure. Last month, Staley also reiterated a pledge to return an increasing amount of cash to shareholders through dividends and buybacks.

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