Attica stake for sale

Commercial Bank yesterday set the stage for the sale of its 17-percent stake in Bank of Attica with the appointment of two advisers to help it look into the prospect. The bank said it had hired investment bank JP Morgan and its subsidiary, Investment Bank, to take charge of the task of finding a strategic or institutional investor, either locally or abroad, for its holding in Bank of Attica. It did not specify a time frame for the transaction. Commercial Bank is the second biggest stakeholder in Bank of Attica after the engineers’ fund, TSMEDE, which holds a controlling, 34-percent share. The Deposit and Loan Fund is the other major shareholder with a 15.5-percent holding. Vassilis Vlastarakis, analyst at Contalexis Financial Services, said the sale of the 17-percent stake could raise between 50 and 52 million euros for Commercial Bank. At yesterday’s share price, Bank of Attica is estimated to have a market capitalization of some 270 million euros, which would place the value of the 17-percent stake at about 45 million euros. «Including a 15-percent premium to be paid by the buyer, this would jack up the price to 50-52 million euros,» he said. He said Bank of Attica’s small size and concentration in wholesale banking, however, could restrict interest. «The major banks have so far not showed interest in Bank of Attica. The Postal Savings Bank is where the game is,» he said. The State plans to list the Postal Savings Bank on the market either this year or in 2003, depending on market conditions. It has steadfastly refused to allow the sale of shares in the bank before its flotation. Vlastarakis said Bank of Attica could boost its chances of finding a strategic investor by restructuring its organization and implementing a more effective strategy. The bank management appears to realize that a broader focus is needed. Last month it announced plans to strengthen its presence in retail banking, private banking and equity market operations. Plans in the pipeline include the opening of 10 outlets this year, e-banking and mobile banking ventures and the introduction of new products targeted at particular groups. The bank also plans to move into venture capital, factoring and real estate operations. Last month it reported a nearly 40-percent decline in first-quarter profits, the result of sharply reduced trading income. Its market share is estimated at around 1.3 percent. Both Commercial and Attica saw their shares fall yesterday, down by 0.70 percent and 0.93 percent respectively. The banking subindex edged down by 0.03 percent.