Government set to accept CA offer for Emporiki Bank

The government and retail investors in Emporiki Bank appeared satisfied with French bank Credit Agricole’s (CA) improved offer for a 100 percent stake in Greece’s fourth-largest credit institution. Yesterday morning, the French group submitted its improved offer for a 100 percent stake in Emporiki, to 25 euros per share, to the Capital Market Commission, the securities watchdog. The new offer improves the original offer by 1.50 euros per share, or 6.4 percent, raising the bank’s valuation to 3.3 billion euros. The stock market reacted swiftly: Emporiki rose 2.63 percent to close at exactly the price offered, 25 euros. The stock traded heavily as well: 3.4 million shares (2.55 percent of the total) changed hands, with the bulk bought by Credit Agricole subsidiaries. Emporiki shareholders agreeing to the buyout must submit their agreement statements to National Bank branches by Monday, August 7. The interministerial Privatizations Committee will meet early next week to approve Credit Agricole’s offer. Credit Agricole holds over 10 percent in Emporiki Bank and must secure the consent of shareholders with an aggregate stake of 30 percent for its offer to succeed. The state holds directly an 11 percent stake, through its portfolio management firm DEKA and, indirectly, through controlling the votes of state agencies, which own another 11 percent, and pension funds (20 percent). The remaining holdings are split among foreign institutional investors (21 percent), Greek institutionals (6.6 percent) and Greek retail investors (about 20 percent). «Credit Agricole’s improved offer is a sign of confidence in the prospects of the Greek economy, the banking sector and Emporiki itself,» Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. When Credit Agricole became the sole interested buyer, after Bank of Cyprus’s retreat, Alogoskoufis pushed hard for it to raise its initial offer, widely considered too low. On Wednesday evening, he negotiated directly with Credit Agricole’s managing director, Georges Pauget. Credit Agricole plans to invest 50 million euros in Emporiki over the next three years. It will also implement a voluntary retirement program for 500 employees and will create extra provisions of 300 million euros, mainly to offset possible costs from the employees’ auxiliary pension fund and the cost of the retirement scheme, among other things. Yesterday, Pauget met with Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis to discuss the pension fund issue and, presumably, the retirement program. Afterward, Tsitouridis insisted there is no problem with the bank’s pension fund, but Credit Agricole officials replied «no comment» to questions.