Finansbank may go to Citigroup

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Citigroup is the favorite to win a bid for Turkish financial group Finansbank, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters yesterday. Citigroup and the National Bank of Greece are expected to submit rival bids for Turkey’s fifth-largest bank, based on consolidated assets, before a March 31 deadline, one of the sources in Istanbul said. Finansbank’s majority shareholder Fiba Holding asked Morgan Stanley in November to seek a possible partnership or sale of shares for the bank. «We know that the bids for Finansbank should be submitted before March 31… two groups have been left and there is a Greek bank other than Citigroup,» said the same source. The Wall Street Journal has said Citigroup was expected to submit yesterday a final cash bid for some or all of Finansbank in a deal that could be valued at $5 billion (4.16 billion euros) or more. It also said the Greek bank would make a bid yesterday. Another Istanbul-based source told Reuters the figure of more than $5 billion was too high. Discussions were also under way on whether Finansbank’s Dutch and Russian operations should be included in the deal, the source said. The start of European Union entry talks last October and falling interest rates in a more stable IMF-backed economy form the backdrop to an expansion in credit that has promoted foreign banks to look anew at Turkey’s financial sector. The recovery has made Turkish banks, with access to an under-developed market of 72 million people, a coveted prize for foreign players looking to tap new sources of growth. Several banks have already been sold. Finansbank’s has a market value around $5 billion. Its shares were traded at around 7.05 lira. Its profits were at 350.4 million lira in 2005, up from 191.6 million lira a year earlier. The Ozyegin family owns 55.68 percent of Finansbank, which has 219 branches across Turkey and operations in 10 countries.