UPDATE 1-Volksbank Romania to sell 490 mln euros of non-performing loans
* NPL ratio to fall to 7.3 pct - President
* Parent required to sell stake in Volksbank Romania by 2015
* Non-performing loans could dampen Romania's growth in 2014
By Radu Marinas
BUCHAREST, March 18 (Reuters) - Volksbank Romania, controlled by Austria's partly-nationalised lender Volksbanken AG, will offload 490 million euros ($682 million) of non-performing loans at an undisclosed discount, its president Benoit Catel told Reuters on Tuesday.
The sales will bring down the loss-making bank's NPL ratio to 7.3 percent, three times lower than the average in Romania's banking system, Catel said in an e-mail.
The bank's non-performing loans totalled about 599 million euros at the end of 2013.
Romania's central bank has encouraged local banks to clean up their balance sheets by selling non-performing loans, which make up about 22 percent of the banks' total loan portfolio.
Romania, the European Union's second-poorest member, is still struggling to recover after a credit bubble burst and plunged it into recession in 2009, forcing the country to seek an International Monetary Fund bailout.
High levels of bad loans could dampen Romania's growth prospects in 2014 by constraining a recovery in lending, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said in January. The EBRD expects Romania's economy to grow 2.4 percent.
"This transaction further de-risks the business, and results in a cumulative 93 percent reduction of our real estate non-performing loan portfolio," Catel said.
"We continue in parallel to focus on growing the profitable core of our business. Currently, we are in advanced negotiations with a group of investors. Their name will be communicated after signing, although closing may take few months," he added.
Parent Volksbanken AG (VBAG) is also shedding assets to comply with European Commission demands which were a condition for approving the state support it received in the wake of the financial crisis.
Austria took a 43 percent stake in VBAG in 2012 as part of a rescue that cost taxpayers more than 1 billion euros in writedowns on previous aid, new capital and guarantees.
VBAG needs to sell its 51 percent stake in its Romanian banking business - which it has entirely written down - by the end of 2015, as well as its 50 percent stake in VB Leasing International by the end of 2014.
Volksbank Romania posted a loss of about 103 million euros at the end of 2013 against a loss of 168.5 million in 2012.
"Additional provision of 91 million euros are reflected in 2013 P&L (profit and loss) and were created in order to cover 100 percent the NPL portfolio for sale," Catel said.
"These additional provisions are responsible for 90 percent of the negative result recorded by Volksbank in 2013."
($1 = 0.7180 euros) (Editing by Matthias Williams. Editing by Jane Merriman)