ECONOMY

Romanian bank for sale

BUCHAREST – Six major European banks have shown interest in the revived sale of Romania’s biggest lender, Banca Comerciala Romana (BCR), privatization agency AVAS told Reuters yesterday. AVAS’s president Gabriel Zbarcea said Romania plans to set a mid-July deadline for receiving expressions of interest in BCR, which accounts for 26 percent of the country’s banking assets, and that binding bids should be filed sometime in September. «There are six extremely serious competitors,» Zbarcea told Reuters in a telephone interview. «So far, the banks we have met and which showed a special interest are Banca Intesa, Unicredito, Deutsche Bank, Fortis, BNP Paribas and HVB-Creditanstalt,» he said. «We expect others as well. We received a letter from (Belgian bank) KBC who want to come and see me; I hope and I believe for the same thing,» Zbarcea added. Romania’s attempt to sell a majority stake in its flagship bank in 2003 failed due to world economic woes, but with the international banking sector picking up, the ex-communist state has now put it back on the block. Zbarcea said negotiations will be carried out with potential investors with the aim of selling the bank this year. «I hope that in mid-November or toward the end of November, we will be able to select the winner,» Zbarcea said. «We can even get the money for this privatization by the end of this year.» He said negotiations on the contract and the price will take place between September and October and that in November the bidders would be expected to place «improved offers.» Priority on price «The price will be our main criterion,» Zbarcea said. «The market is very good; there are no other important banks in the region being privatized.» He refused to give details of the price sought. «The price will be given by the market… we know what to expect; we know our minimum threshold,» he said. Romania aims to sell at least 50 percent plus one share in BCR but Zbarcea said the country could sell up to 58 percent. In 2003, Romania sold 25 percent plus two shares in BCR for $222 million to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank’s investment arm, the IFC. The government, which currently holds 36.8 percent in the bank, will sell a majority stake together with the EBRD and the IFC to the winner of the tender. Four percent of BCR will go to a special fund created to compensate owners whose property was seized by the communists. Five Romanian investment companies own around 30 percent in the bank and its employees hold 8 percent. The government has also said it plans to list a minority stake on the bourse. AVAS will publish the privatization announcement next week.