Northern Rock has brought in US law firm Shearman & Sterling to help it fight a potential tie-up between Abbey and HBOS.
Shearman is the first US firm to get a major role on the Abbey deal. That it was preferred over second-tier City firms such as CMS Cameron McKenna, Denton Wilde Sapte or SJ Berwin is notable.
It is understood that Northern Rock’s efforts will focus on lobbying the UK competition authorities about the impact of an Abbey-HBOS tie-up on mortgage intermediaries.
Northern Rock chief operating officer David Baker said: “[HBOS’s offer for Abbey] would be a major event in our market. It would be negligent of us not to monitor this development.”
Pressure is growing daily for HBOS to announce its intentions towards Abbey.
It is understand that there is no fixed date for a board meeting at HBOS, but the board may want to see Banco Santander Central’s offer, due at the end of the week, before it makes an announcement.
Until HBOS commits, Shearman’s role is limited to a watching brief, although it has already informed the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that it has been instructed.
If HBOS bids, Northern Rock will make representations to the OFT. Sources close to the bank say its advisers have indicated that the deal will be referred to the Competition Commission.
A merged Abbey-HBOS would control 30-40 per cent of the UK mortgage market, which opponents of the deal say would give it an unfair advantage with mortgage intermediaries. A combined bank would also have a strong position on the cross-selling of mortgage-linked products, say sources.