Healthy interest shown in Romanian bank bids

BUCHAREST – Seven foreign banks bid in the privatization of Romania’s largest bank, Banca Comerciala Romana (BCR), yesterday, confirming strong interest from investors in one of the last big bank sales in Central and Eastern Europe. The Balkan country, which hopes to join the European Union in 2007, plans to sell a 61.88 percent stake in BCR by the end of this year to an international bank or a consortium of banks. The banks that submitted bids are Deutsche Bank, Millennium bcp, Erste Bank, National Bank of Greece, Banca Intesa, Dexia and BNP Paribas, privatization agency AVAS said in a statement. Analysts have estimated the deal for BCR would fetch between 1.5 billion and 3 billion euros. A roughly 40 percent stake in Estonia’s Hansabank, a slightly larger bank in terms of assets, was sold for 1.8 billion euros earlier this year. «The price people are paying has been driven by their level of interest,» said Fitch analyst Tim Beck. «This is one of the last remaining significant privatizations in the region and therefore people seem to be prepared to pay a premium for it.» AVAS did not set a deadline for the next stage of the privatization, when it plans to select the top two bidders and ask them to improve their offers to make sure BCR is sold at the best price. Financial details of the bids were not disclosed. Romania’s prospects for accession to the European Union and its growth potential have put it on several foreign banks’ acquisition radar. The country’s economy was forecast to grow by 5.5 percent this year after expanding by 8.3 percent in 2004. Financial intermediation – the collection of savings and the lending out of the proceeds – is around 20 percent of gross domestic product in Romania, or one-third the level in the 10 mostly former communist states that joined the EU last year. Analysts said that indicated favorable growth potential, as non-government lending is expanding by about 2.9 percent per month in the former communist country of 22 million. Romania’s government has said that the price offered for BCR, which has assets of 7.3 billion euros and 344 branches across the country, would be given priority in determining the most attractive bids. In 2003, Romania sold 25 percent plus two shares in BCR for 183 million euros to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and to the World Bank’s investment arm, the International Finance Corp. The state still owns 36.8 percent of BCR and will sell its stake together with those of the two international institutions. Five Romanian investment companies own about 30 percent of BCR and the bank’s employees hold 8 percent.