Emporiki sale by early August

The sale of Emporiki Bank will be finalized by early August, even if more than the current two bidders take part. The Capital Market Commission approved the prospectus of French Bank Credit Agricole last Thursday. It is expected to approve that of rival bidder Cyprus Bank early this week. The acceptance period, during which the government must study the two bids and decide to whom it will sell its controlling stake in Emporiki, starts on July 4 and ends August 3. By August 4, it must announce its preference. A later entry of other bidders will not change the deadline. At present, the government controls, directly or indirectly, 23.5 percent of Emporiki: 11 percent through state portfolio agency DEKA, 5.5 percent through state employment organization OAED, 4.5 percent through farmers’ pension fund OGA and 2.5 percent through the Social Security Foundation (IKA). Credit Agricole, which already owns just over 9 percent of Emporiki, is offering cash for the bank at about 23.50 euros per share. Bank of Cyprus is offering cash and shares for Emporiki at a premium (29.50 a share) but the government is known to prefer a cash offer and an acquisition by a foreign bank. Athens-listed Bank of Cyprus is nominally a foreign bank but Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, on record as opposing a further consolidation of the Greek banking sector, is eyeing suspiciously the accumulation of Cyprus Bank shares by Piraeus Bank. On Friday, Piraeus raised its stake in Cyprus Bank to 7.52 percent. Piraeus’s Michalis Sallas has denied interest in Emporiki, saying consolidation would be too expensive. In any case, CA will likely have to improve its offer, which, at 2.8 times Emporiki’s book value is considered very low.