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CANDID MOMENT: U.S. Bancorp's interest in buying a bank 'couldn't be more dormant,' CEO Richard Davis says.
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U.S. Bancorp Chief Bearish on Bank M&A, Bullish on Payments Deals

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U.S. Bancorp (USB) is in acquisition mode, just not for banks.

Chief Executive Officer Richard Davis made it painfully clear while speaking with analysts Wednesday that bank M&A is far off his radar right now.

"We haven't seen any activity. I mean I could make it up I wouldn't but I could make it sound interesting. But we haven't. We have had no approaches of any significance. We are not approaching anyone," Davis said in response to a question from Dan Werner, an analyst at Morningstar, about bank M&A. "I mean it couldn't be more dormant, and our interest couldn't be lower."

His remarks echoed recent comments by Wells Fargo (WFC) CEO John Stumpf and PNC Financial Services Group (PNC) CEO Bill Demchak, as it is nearly a foregone conclusion that whole-bank acquisitions are unlikely for the country's largest banks. Deals for niche services, loan portfolios or nonbanks are more within the realm of possibility for healthy banks.

As the fifth-largest bank by a wide margin, U.S. Bancorpin Minneapolis likely has the best chance of swaying regulators to let it buy, but observers say it would need to be a bank that would substantially change its market share in a given area.

Werner responded to Davis' candid response with: "I was just wondering if there were any changes."

However, Davis got more excited by a question from Jon Arfstrom, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, about M&A in the payments and processing business.

"We are known to be an acquirer, an active acquirer," Davis said of U.S. Bancorp, which in December bought FSV Payment Systems, a prepaid card program manager and processor in Jacksonville, Fla. "We will talk to anybody. I have said this before, but a few folks that created a great idea in a garage that has a payment uniqueness attached to it we will talk to them."

Davis says that arena includes small startups not interested in doing a second or third round of capital raising, or that want to attach themselves to a bigger company.

"We have a very active list of M&A opportunities" in the payments sector, Davis says. "Fewer as a percentage would come to the end, but it is not for lack of having looked and seeing interest. And people know us so they are coming at us."

He acknowledged that M&A calculus is different for others.

"I read about the small banks continuing to cobble together to find some critical mass, which makes total sense to me because the cost of compliance and just regulatory costs are easier by a larger base," he says.

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