Greece’s banks eyeing Egypt

At a time when a great deal of attention is focused on possible banking sector developments within Greek borders, or at least in new Europe and the Balkans, some especially interesting moves are being made in the Eastern Mediterranean, more specifically Egypt. And these certainly have some direct or indirect Greek interest. In recent months, such moves in Egypt have been placed in the Greek banking system’s list of top priorities. One such move relates to a report that Dubai Investment Group (DIG), now the largest shareholder in Marfin Investment Group (MIG), has bought out a 25 percent stake in a major Egyptian brokerage firm. This takes on special significance in view of the fact that the specific brokerage firm is reported to control 25 percent of a major Lebanon-based credit institution. This means that, at least indirectly, MIG appears to be gaining access to a new market, together with its banking arm MPB. MPB bosses have shown that they are particularly attracted to the idea of doing business in North Africa. According to reports, MPB even recently considered investing in the Libyan market, and some officials had visited Tripoli for initial contacts. Even though, for unknown reasons, the project in question did not go ahead, it is indicative of MPB intentions. Another development of Greek interest is currently under way in Egypt. Procedures for the sale of a major local bank begin on Monday, with an invitation for expression of interest by prospective investors. Candidates are said to include Greece’s National Bank, as well as EFG Eurobank. Interestingly, Piraeus Bank is already doing business in Egypt through the takeover of a local bank. In the past, EFG Eurobank has taken part in two privatization procedures involving local banks. The Egyptian credit market has long been in the sights of Greek bankers. National Bank has operated two branches in Cairo and Alexandria since the 1960s, as part of a policy to serve the Greek community living there. The bank recently increased the capital base of its branches, but National officials do not seem to be content with that and are now looking for takeover opportunities. The same also applies to EFG Eurobank, which lost a bid for the Bank of Alexandria to a major French group.