(Corrects day in first paragraph to Saturday)
* Talks at very early stage - source
* Banks decline to comment
* Merger speculation has been building for months
FRANKFURT, March 9 (Reuters) - The management board of Deutsche Bank has agreed to hold talks with rival Commerzbank on the feasibility of a merger, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Saturday.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed information reported earlier by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
The person said that first unofficial contacts had taken place in a very small group and the mandate from Deutsche’s board was given more than a week ago, the person said.
Talks were at a very early stage and could fall apart, the source added.
A spokesman for Deutsche Bank and a spokeswoman for Commerzbank both declined to comment.
Speculation about a possible merger between Germany’s two largest listed banks has been rife for months, heightening under the tenure of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who has spoken out in favour of strong banks.
Both lenders have struggled to return to sustainable profitability since the global financial crisis, and the government holds a stake of more than 15 percent in Commerzbank following bailout.
Deutsche is regarded as one of the most important banks in the global financial system, but has been plagued by three years of losses, ratings downgrades, failed stress tests, and money laundering scandals.
Its chief executive, Christian Sewing, has said publicly in recent months he was focused on restoring profitability before taking on a complicated merger project.
Commerzbank’s chief, Martin Zielke, has been more open to the idea of a tie-up, a person with knowledge of his thinking said. Last month, he said speculation about a merger was “understandable”.
The two banks flirted with a merger in 2016 but talks fizzled out after both banks decided to focus on restructuring.
Last month, a person familiar with the matter said that U.S. investor Cerberus Capital Management, a major shareholder in both Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, was open to a merger, increasing chances of a tie-up.
Deutsche Bank has more than 20 million personal and business customers, and Commerzbank around 18 million.
Based on Friday’s closing prices, a combination of the two banks would have an equity market value of more than 24 billion euros ($27 billion).
$1 = 0.8896 euros Reporting by Tom Sims and Andreas Framke; editing by John Stonestreet