Home Editor's Picks Capital One to buy Discover Financial in $35.3 billion all-stock deal

Capital One to buy Discover Financial in $35.3 billion all-stock deal


Capital One in advanced talks to buy Discover Financial, sources say By Reuters

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Published Feb 19, 2024 11:58AM ET
Updated Feb 19, 2024 03:55PM ET

© Reuters. The logo and ticker for Capital One are displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Anirban Sen and Michelle Price

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Capital One, a U.S. consumer lender backed by Warren Buffett, is in advanced talks to buy credit card issuer Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS), with an announcement possible as early as Tuesday, people familiar with the matter said.

While the exact size of the tie-up, which would combine two of the largest U.S. credit card companies, was not immediately clear, it has the potential to be the biggest U.S. bank deal since Bank of America’s $50 billion takeover of Merrill Lynch in 2009.

Capital One is valued at $52.2 billion, LSEG data shows, and is the fourth largest player in the U.S. credit card market by volume as of 2022, according to Nilson. Discover has a market capitalization of $27.6 billion and is the sixth largest U.S. credit card player.

The banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Bloomberg News first reported on the deal talks.

The deal is likely to experience intense scrutiny as Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration continues to focus on boosting competition in all areas of the economy, including a 2021 executive order aimed at bank deals.

“I predict that this deal, if it materializes, will provoke a significant push-back and receive heightened regulatory scrutiny,” Jeremy Kress, a University of Michigan professor of business law who previously worked on bank merger oversight at the Federal Reserve, wrote in an email to Reuters.

“It will be the first big test of bank merger regulation since the Biden administration’s executive order on promoting competition in 2021.”

Democratic progressives have long fought bank consolidation, arguing it increases systemic risk and hurts consumers by reducing lending, and have stepped up pressure on regulators to take a tougher stance on deals. The pressure intensified following deals aimed at rescuing failed lenders last year, including JPMorgan’s purchase of First Republic Bank (OTC:FRCB).

The Biden administrations’ executive order required bank regulators and the Justice Department to review their bank merger policies. The DOJ subsequently said it would consider a broader range of factors when assessing bank mergers for antitrust issues, while the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last month proposed scrapping its fast-track review process.

By assets, Discover was the 27th largest U.S. bank with nearly $150 billion in assets, according to December Federal Reserve data ranking insured U.S. banks, while Capital One was the ninth-largest with $476 billion in assets. The combined entity would be the sixth-largest U.S. bank, the Fed data shows.

While the pair overlap in some areas of the credit card business, Discover is one of the four major U.S. credit card processors, along with Visa (NYSE:V), Mastercard (NYSE:MA) and American Express (NYSE:AXP)

The deal also would come at time of increased regulatory focus on credit card fees, which are the subject of strict new rules proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

That agency, led by merger skeptic Rohit Chopra, who has a say in bank deals, last week flagged competition concerns in the U.S. credit card market. In a report, it noted that during the first half of 2023 small banks and credit unions tended to offer cheaper interest rates than the largest 25 credit card companies across all credit score tiers.

A previous CFPB report also found that the top 10 issuers by average credit card outstandings represented 83% of credit card loans in 2022, continuing a decline from 87% in 2016.


In late 2023, Discover said it was exploring the sale of its student loan business and would stop accepting new student loan applications in February.

The company, led by TD Bank Group veteran Michael Rhodes, has faced some regulatory challenges. It disclosed in July a regulatory review over some incorrectly classified credit card accounts from mid-2007.

In October, Discover said it agreed to improve its consumer compliance and related corporate governance as part of a consent order with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

While supervisory issues are generally an obstacle for deals between financial firms, regulators are more amenable when the problems are with the target company and the acquirer is considered a good actor, according to legal experts.

Discover and Capital One reported 62% and 43% falls, respectively, in fourth-quarter profit, as banks increased provisions for losses from bad loans as rising interest rates raised the risk of consumer defaults on credit card debt and mortgages.

Capital One in advanced talks to buy Discover Financial, sources say

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