Emporiki sale nears end

France’s biggest lender, Credit Agricole (CA), intends to improve its offer of 23.50 euros per share for 100 percent of Emporiki Bank before the opening of the Athens bourse today, it transpired late yesterday after a meeting between Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and CA’s CEO Georges Pauget. CA emerged as the only bidder for Greece’s fourth-largest bank by assets on Tuesday, when the deadline expired. Earlier this month, Bank of Cyprus pulled out of the race. CA already holds 9 percent of Emporiki’s shares and 11 percent of voting rights. Alogoskoufis last week described CA’s initial bid as too low, while market circles said it was possible that if the French did not improve their offer they would not be able to gather the minimum 40 percent of additional shares required. Full acquisition is estimated to cost more than 3 billion euros, the biggest direct foreign investment in Greece in recent years. The government’s stake in Emporiki, controlled directly or indirectly through social insurance funds, is valued at around 1.5 billion euros. After the meeting with Pauget, Alogoskoufis briefed Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the other members of the ministerial privatizations committee, who will confer to make a final decision on the new French offer. Earlier yesterday, representatives of Emporiki’s employees union vowed to fight the privatization. Separately, Moody’s Investors Service affirmed CA’s Aa2/P-1/B+ bank ratings and stable outlook, saying it reflected its ability to finance from its own funds current transactions, including up to 100 percent of Emporiki Bank as per its June 2006 offer.