Banking group HBOS today stayed silent on claims that its bosses will meet this week to finalise plans for a £10bn (€14.7bn) bid for Abbey National.
The group refused to confirm a Sunday newspaper report that its board will gather to consider a study by its lawyers about whether regulators would allow a takeover of Abbey.
Although HBOS chief executive James Crosby believes Abbey represents the final opportunity to buy a large British bank, the decision about whether to make an offer is on a knife-edge, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
HBOS has indicated that it may bid after Spanish bank Santander Central Hispano made an agreed £8.2bn (€12bn) offer for Abbey.
A spokesman for HBOS today refused to confirm details of the report, saying it never commented on the timing of its board meetings.
“We said some time ago we were in the early stages of considering whether we would or would not bid for Abbey National,” he said.
“That remains the case and there can be no certainty that we will proceed with a bid.”
HBOS has been lobbying the Office of Fair Trading for guidance about whether it would refer an offer for Abbey to the Competition Commission, the Telegraph report claimed.
The HBOS spokesman refused to confirm whether it had approached the OFT.
“A number of newspapers have been speculating to that effect, but we’ve made no comment on that and it’s pure conjecture,” he said.
HBOS faces having to make a quick decision about whether to bid after Santander said late month that it was planning to speed up its takeover.
The Spanish bank is understood to be seeking to complete the deal in November - five months ahead of its previous timetable.
BSCH has already said its takeover will lead to only 3,000 job losses among Abbey’s 26,000-strong workforce, mainly because it did not intend to close branches.
In contrast, a successful bid by HBOS could lead to many high street branches disappearing because they are located too close to the 741 owned by Abbey.
BSCH, which is currently valued at around £30bn (€44.1bn), is aiming to make savings of €450m in the next three years through changes to IT and back-office operations.