DZI Bank looks for European partner

SOFIA (Reuters) – DZI Bank is looking for a strategic partner among Europe’s leading banks to expand its retail business, the small Bulgarian bank said yesterday. Hungary’s OTP Bank, which owns Bulgaria’s largest bank in terms of assets, DSK Bank, has already said it might try to buy DZI, the Balkan country’s 11th-largest bank. DZI currently has a market capitalization of around 270 million leva (138 million euros). «DZI Bank is preparing its strategy for expanding retail banking and financing of small and medium-sized businesses. To achieve its goals, DZI will be open for partnership with all leading banking institutions in Europe,» it said in a statement. Some analysts have predicted a sale of DZI due to increased competition and the expected consolidation of the banking sector after Bulgaria’s planned entry into the European Union next year. DZI Bank, majority-owned by privately held DZI financial group, said it had not reached any concrete agreements with OTP and that many leading EU banks had expressed an interest in it, though it declined to name any potential partners. A source in the banking sector said a French and a Greek bank had expressed interest in a possible takeover of DZI, which has 21 branches and 95 offices throughout Bulgaria. The investment arm of Bank Austria Creditanstalt, CAIB, bought a 25 percent stake in DZI last year for 16 million euros to back call warrants it later placed with industrial investors across Europe. DZI’s total assets stood at 1.1 billion leva (562 million euros) at the end of June, with a net profit of 814,000 leva. A key shareholder at the bank, the financier Emil Kyulev, died last October when he was shot while driving to work. It is not clear who killed him or why.

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