Greece to sell Postbank, Proton in July, stress-test big banks

Greece’s bank rescue fund will aim to sell Hellenic Postbank and Proton by mid-July with big banks continuing to absorb small lenders as part of plans to revive the battered sector, the country’s foreign lenders said in an inspection review.

Greece is recapitalizing its four big banks and winding down others deemed non-viable to improve the sector’s capacity to fund the economy out of a deep six-year recession. Banks suffered heavy losses from debt writedowns and bad loans.

Small lenders Hellenic Postbank and Proton were split into “good” and “bad” parts and are now fully owned by the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), a state capital backstop funded with 50 billion euros from the country’s bailout package.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund’s review said the 50 billion euro sum is enough to cover recapitalization and resolution costs and would leave enough funds for follow-up stress testing for the sector to be completed by end-2013.

The new tests will assess the adequacy of solvency buffers and loan-loss provisions as banks still face rising credit impairments because of the recession. Bad loans rose to 24.2 percent of their books last year from 16.5 percent in 2011.

The recapitalization of Greece’s four core banks – National, Alpha, Piraeus and Eurobank – is expected to be wrapped up by June 14.

The four lenders need 27.5 billion euros to plug capital holes and must raise at least 10 percent from private investors via share offerings to retain management control. The bulk of the funds will be pumped in by the HFSF rescue fund.

The report said entities belonging to the general government cannot buy bank shares in the recapitalization or support third parties with loans, guarantees or subsidies, meaning cash-strapped state pension funds may not take part.

By mid-July authorities will devise a comprehensive strategy to further consolidate the banking sector and privatize banks falling under HFSF control. Any mergers among the four core banks will only be considered after the strategy is defined. [Reuters]