Standard Chartered and Barclays Bank have taken the unprecedented step of denying they are in merger talks with each other. Speculation during the past few days of an imminent deal between the two reached fever pitch. In a bid to end the rumours, both companies made official statements to the London Stock Exchange - within one minute of each other - an unusual measure given the banks usually refuse to comment on speculation. The rumours had been fuelled principally by a sharp 13.5 per cent gain in Standard Chartered's shares last week, and comments made by Barclays chief executive Martin Taylor that he expected increasing cross-border consolidation in the banking industry. Yesterday, Barclays said: 'While [the bank] continues to monitor developments among its competitors throughout the financial services sector, it is not in discussions with Standard Chartered.' Standard Chartered also said it was 'not in discussions with any party concerning a merger or a takeover'. 'Standard Chartered has an excellent future as an independent banking group,' it said. Reports at the weekend said Mr Taylor had taken Standard Chartered chief executive Malcolm Williamson out for dinner in London's exclusive Mayfair district and proposed the merger to him. Analysts said such a deal would be compelling as it would link Barclays' highly profitable domestic retail-banking operation with Standard Chartered's enviable Asian retail and commercial banking network. The deal would create a banking group valued at GBP36.2 billion (about HK$458.65 billion), and would give it a global spread that would begin to approach commercial banking giants such as HSBC Holdings and Citicorp. Standard Chartered was the subject of a takeover attempt by Lloyds Bank in 1986.