Greek lenders eye Emporiki

Posted on June 29, 2012

Crédit Agricole has received three expressions of interest in Emporiki Bank from local lenders after putting its lossmaking Greek subsidiary up for sale in a move that signalled waning confidence in the country’s future in the eurozone.

Greece’s three biggest lenders – National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank and Eurobank EFG – indicated they were ready to make competitive offers for Emporiki provided they could get approval from the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, an international rescue facility for the country’s banking sector, two banking sources said.

    Crédit Agricole in Paris declined to comment.

    The decision to sell Emporiki, Greece’s fifth largest bank by assets, comes as a blow to the new coalition government that took office last week pledging to keep the country in the eurozone and turn its economy around by 2014.

    Crédit Agricole invited local banks to submit offers for a majority stake in Emporiki earlier this month as fears mounted of a run on Greek banks, according to one source.

    Depositors withdrew more than €10bn ahead of the June 17 general election, although €2bn has since returned, according to finance ministry officials.

    Potential bidders for Emporiki have already asked the HFSF for permission to use part of the €18bn of capital disbursed to the country’s four largest lenders in May as bridge capital to raise their capital adequacy ratio to 8 per cent so that they can regain access to European Central Bank funding.

    The HFSF is expected to hold discussions next week with bidders on details of their offers, one source said.

    But a decision is not likely to be taken until Greek banks are fully recapitalised with a further transfer of €23bn-€25bn from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Credit Agricolehas already taken measures to limit its exposure to Greece – the largest by a European bank – by transferring ownership of Emporiki’s operations in Romania, Bulgaria and Albania to the Paris-listed and mutually controlled bank in France, a move designed to soothe concerns of depositors in those countries.

    It followed a similar path in Argentina a decade ago, suddenly ending transfers to three local Argentine banks that were taken over by the state-owned Banco de la Nación.

    Crédit Agricole has spent more than €5bn since 2006 on acquiring full control of Emporiki and strengthening its capital base, but reduced its funding lines to the bank to €4.6bn from €11.4bn a year ago.

    Additional reporting by Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Paris

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