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Associated Press, Published December 17 2010

Bank of Montreal buys US bank for $4.1 billion

TORONTO (AP) — The Bank of Montreal announced Friday that it was acquiring Marshall & Ilsley Corp., which is headquartered in Milwaukee, for $4.1 billion in stock in the latest deal by a Canadian bank to buy a distressed U.S. bank.

The bank said it signed a definitive agreement with the Wisconsin-based bank to exchange 0.1257 shares of Bank of Montreal for each share of M&I.

Canada's fourth largest bank is doubling its presence in the U.S. from 321 branches to 695. The Bank of Montreal has previously extended its business in the U.S. Midwest through its Chicago-based Harris unit.

Canadian banks, ranked the soundest in the world by the World Economic Forum, have been buying distressed banks in the U.S. in recent years. Canadian banks weathered the economic crisis far better than their counterparts in other countries.

In Canada's concentrated banking system, five major banks dominate the market. The banks have been looking outside Canada to grow.

"The combination of Harris Bank and M&I is a perfect fit. It more than doubles the size of our branch footprint in the U.S., doubles our customer base in personal and commercial banking. It gives us a meaningful market position in cities in the midwest," Bank of Montreal President and CEO Bill Downe said in a conference call with analysts.

Downe said the addition of the Wisconsin bank would "align well with BMO's retail, commercial, and asset (and) wealth management businesses in the U.S."

M&I is headquartered in Milwaukee and has $51.9 billion in assets. The bank has more than 190 offices throughout Wisconsin as well as locations in Indiana, Minnesota and other states.

Bank of Montreal's parent, Toronto-based BMO Financial Group, said it is buying Marshall & Ilsley's $1.7 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program preferred shares and will repay them in full before the acquisition closes.

Bank of Montreal said once the transaction is completed, Marshall & Ilsley president and CEO Mark Furlong will become the CEO of the combined banks' U.S. personal and commercial banking business, based in Chicago.

The Bank of Montreal said the transaction has been approved by the boards of both banks and is expected to close before July 31.

Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canada's second largest bank, has also expanded its U.S. presence in recent years with the purchase of New Jersey-based Commerce Bancorp and smaller, troubled banks in the Carolinas and Florida.

Canadian banks are investing in the U.S. from a position of strength. There was no mortgage meltdown or subprime crisis in Canada. Banks don't package mortgages and sell them to the private market, so they need to be sure their borrowers can pay back the loans.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.