ECONOMY

EFG clinches Serb bank

BELGRADE – EFG Eurobank has clinched a stake of about 60 percent in Serbia’s National Savings Bank after its bid attracted more than 49 percent of the stock, Belgrade-based brokers said yesterday. «More than 49 percent of National Savings Bank’s shares have been deposited into EFG’s account,» Synergy Capital brokers told Reuters. The bid closed formally at noon. «EFG already holds a 10 percent equity in the bank. They will formally become new majority owners on September 29, the settlement date,» the brokers added. EFG, Greece’s third-biggest lender by assets, was not immediately available for comment. Its shares closed up 3 percent at 25.38 euros on the Athens bourse, outperforming the blue chip index. Eurobank offered early this month to buy between 40.7 percent and 90.2 percent of NSB, pricing each share at 627,541 dinars or 7,433 euros. The maximum 90 percent stake would have cost 70.8 million euros ($86.5 million). The Greek bank will have the Serbian state as its partner for at least three years after the government decided to negotiate a three-year put option rather than sell its 37 percent. Brokers said the state opted to hold onto its stake because National Savings Bank is repaying most Yugoslav-era frozen savings and also offers cheap loans to farmers. «According to the National Savings Bank’s statute, the majority shareholder can decide on issues such as a capital increase but needs government approval if it wants to shut down the bank or merge it with another,» Synergy Capital brokers said. EFG entered the Serbian market in 2003 by acquiring Post Banka and building it up to a network of 20 branches. Its Guernsey-based arm, Berberis Investment Ltd, began buying shares in NSB on the Belgrade Stock Exchange in May and has built up a 10 percent stake. The National Savings Bank – Nacionalna Stedionica – was set up to boost confidence in the banking sector in early 2002, days after the state closed four big, debt-laden banks. It took over some of the premises and workers of the closed banks.