Feds approve Wells Fargo merger; also: Travelers sees losses from storms and securities, and 3M acquires license plate manufacturer

Wells Fargo’s merger with Wachovia Corp. has received fast-tracked approval from the Federal Reserve. The central bank’s board of governors unanimously voted on Sunday to approve the acquisition, which will turn Wells Fargo into the nation’s largest retail bank. Antitrust regulators OK’d the deal on Friday.

Analysts say Wells Fargo is likely to sell off or significantly downsize Wachovia’s investment banking business, Bloomberg reports. They say investment banking has never been a strength of Wells Fargo, which is more committed to consumer banking. Stocks of both banks rose this morning following news of the merger approval.

St. Paul-based Travelers insurance has been battered by hurricanes and investment losses in recent months. The company said today it estimates $690 million in after-tax catastrophe losses relating to Hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Dolly. In the same statement, the company also said it expects a $44 million loss from Lehman Brothers securities it held. The company expects net income of about a buck per share for the third quarter.

3M is buying a French company that manufactures license plates. 3M invented the reflective coating used on road signs and license plates. Now it’s paying an undisclosed amount to acquire Financière Burgienne. With the deal, 3M is tapping into a company that’s expected to play a key part in rolling out a new vechicle registration program in France next year.

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