Does RBS want ABN?

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Does RBS want to have a go at ABN Amro? On a conference call just now, RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin was offered several opportunities to rule RBS out of the running for ABN Amro, or to repeat his earlier statements that there are no big deals in the pipeline. Our banking editor, Peter Thal Larsen, was listening in and says Sir Fred very definitely declined to do so.

“I can’t think there’s anything out there at the moment that seems to us desirable, doable or affordable,” Sir Fred said earlier this month. Maybe Barclays’ move on ABN has made him think again. At least he, unlike the Barclays management, has an excellent track record in M&A, including cross-border. Barclays shares are up again today (after a big push from house broker Cazenove yesterday) and are now 11 per cent higher since the talks were announced – which, for a unpopular deal, and not just with me, is puzzling.

The RBS call was being held because it has hired Ellen Alemany from Citigroup to be its chief executive in America as the banking group continues its rapid expansion in North America. Ms Alemany, who was previously head of Citigroup’s transaction banking division, will report to Larry Fish, the long-serving head of RBS’s US retail business, who will become chairman of RBS America. Peter Thal Larsen says it is a sign that RBS is placing greater emphasis on corporate banking for US growth.

Citigroup, meanwhile, is setting up a global commercial banking operation in London that will push into medium-sized corporate lending in the UK and Germany.

J Sainsbury shares were down 1.5 per cent this morning after we wrote this morning that the pension scheme trustees want any bidder to tackle the hole of up to £3bn in the fund.

John Maltby, chief executive of Kensington Group, the subprime mortgage lender, is to step down after the company said profits are likely to be “below current market estimates”. Kensington is suffering from increased competition rather than problems with defaults. The shares are off 16 per cent.

Rumour of the day: Shares in Pearson, owner of the Financial Times and in which I own shares, are the top FTSE 100 gainers, up more than 4 per cent this morning on bid speculation. However, this may also be linked to Wolters Kluwer, the Dutch-listed publishing group, having agreed to sell its education division to Bridgepoint in a deal worth more than €750m ($1bn).

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