Northwestern Mutual Denies M&I Talks

NEW YORK - Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Milwaukee denied Friday that it was in talks to purchase Marshall & Ilsley Corp., the second-largest bank holding company there.Rumors that the 145-year-old life insurer was looking to purchase the $22 billion-asset company sprang from a report in The Business Journal-Milwaukee, a weekly newspaper. The report, citing unidentified sources, said Northwestern Mutual Life was conducting due diligence on Marshall & Ilsley and that a deal could be announced within a month.

Shares of Marshall & Ilsley rose as much as 16.36% to $60.875 in early trading Friday, and closed up $2.9375, or 5.62%, at $55.25.

Analysts said that if Northwestern were to buy Marshall & Ilsley, it would cost $75 a share, or $7.5 billion. But the deal would have to be in cash because mutual insurance companies do not have stock. Marshall & Ilsley did not return calls.

- Tania Padgett

Morgan Exec to Run Chase's U.S. Private Bank

NEW YORK - Chase Manhattan Corp. has named John A. Straus, a former managing director of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., to a newly created post as head of its U.S. private banking business.Mr. Straus, who headed a similar smaller operation for Morgan Stanley, will oversee the reorganization of Chase's U.S. practice, which employs 850 people and generates about $1 billion in annual revenue, and report to Maria Elena Lagomasino, who heads Chase's global private bank.

She said the reorganization would probably include some hiring. "We don't have nearly enough talent to put up against the opportunity that's out there. We are in a period in the U.S. when the greatest amount of wealth in history is being created, and we are sitting at the epicenter."

Mr. Straus, who spent 13 years at Morgan Stanley after six at Salomon Brothers, is occupying a new position at Chase. The U.S. private banking practice is divided into four groups, each of which will now report to Mr. Straus.

He said he was attracted to Chase's investment banking capability. "Clients do not just get wealthy once. They stay wealthy," he said. "We have to understand how to deal with maintaining wealth, with generational transfer, with tax issues."

- Jacqueline S. Gold

Wells to Buy 1st Choice Financial of Colo.

DENVER - Wells Fargo & Co. said Friday it had a deal to buy 1st Choice Financial Corp., adding seven branches and 8,000 customers to its already sizable presence.The deal for the $410 million-asset 1st Choice, based in Greeley, Colo., is expected to be completed in the second quarter. Terms were not disclosed.

Wells said it already has eight branches in northern Colorado, which are still called Norwest Bank, and 116 in Colorado, where it is the largest bank by assets. Wells has 600,000 customers in the state.

The founder and chief executive officer of 1st Choice, Darrell McAllister, will continue to manage the 1st Choice branches when the merger is completed.

The deal comes on the heels of Wells' announcement last week that it would buy a mid-sized Nebraska bank, First Commerce Bancshares Inc., which would make it the second-largest bank in that state by deposits.

- Laura Mandaro

Prudential Takes Over Mitsui Joint Venture

TOKYO - Prudential Insurance Co. of America on Friday said it acquired 100% of Prudential-Mitsui Trust Investments Co., the 50-50 joint venture formed between the insurer and Mitsui Trust and Banking in 1998 to sell investments in Japan. Prudential-Mitsui had $74 billion under management in December.

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