Bank share sales get green light

Three of the country’s biggest banks, including Eurobank and Alpha, received shareholder approval yesterday to sell the government preferred shares worth a total of some 2.5 billion euros as part of a state-backed liquidity support scheme. Greece has pledged 28 billion euros to lenders to keep the economy adequately funded. The government wants banks to channel a major portion of the funding toward mortgages and small businesses. Greece’s central bank expects the plan will help keep the pace of credit expansion above 10 percent this year. Investors in EFG Eurobank, Greece’s No 2 bank, approved a plan to sell the government 345.5 million euros worth of non-voting preferred stock at 2.75 euros per share. «Our group’s participation in the scheme will contribute significantly to shielding the economy and strengthening market liquidity,» chief executive Nikos Nanopoulos told shareholders at a meeting called to vote on the matter. Greece has earmarked up to 5 billion euros for preferred share purchases under the plan. It also envisages as much as 15 billion euros to back new bank loans or refinance outstanding ones, plus about 8 billion euros of special government bonds in order to boost liquidity. The preference shares don’t carry voting rights but will earn the government a 10 percent dividend. Under the plan, a state representative will sit on the board of each participating bank, who will have the power to veto executive pay. Investors in Alpha, Greece’s third-largest lender, agreed to waive their rights and cleared an issue of up to 250 million preferred non-voting shares to be sold to the government at no more than 4.7 euros per share. Alpha Bank Chairman Yannis Costopoulos predicted an improvement in market conditions in coming months, allowing banks to return to normal operations. Meanwhile, state-controlled ATEbank received shareholder approval yesterday for a 675-million-euro capital boost via the issue of preferred shares to the government.

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