Portugal president warns Espirito Santo woes could hurt economy

LISBON Mon Jul 21, 2014 3:22pm EDT

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva speaks during a news conference at Belem presidential palace in Lisbon July 21, 2013.   REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva speaks during a news conference at Belem presidential palace in Lisbon July 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Manuel Ribeiro

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's president warned on Monday that fallout from the financial troubles of the founding family of Banco Espirito Santo (BES) could affect the wider economy, while the bank said it was appointing a special financial advisor to help boost its capital structure.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva is the first high-profile politician to warn of a possible economic impact from the Espirito Santo crisis, after the family asked for creditor protection for one of its key holding companies on Friday.

Last week another of the family's companies failed to repay on time over $1 billion in debt owed to Portugal Telecom, which had a knock-on effect on the latter's merger with Brazil's Grupo Oi, forcing it to take a cut in its stake in the new entity.

"If some citizens, some investors suffer significant losses (from the Espirito Santo group) they may delay investment decisions, or some of them may find themselves in very big difficulties," Cavaco Silva said in comments during a visit to South Korea, which were aired on local television.

"We cannot ignore that there will be some impact on the real economy."

Portugal, which in May emerged from an EU/IMF bailout it had to take during the euro zone debt crisis, is expecting its economy to grow by 1 percent this year, the first year of growth since 2011.

BES, Portugal's largest listed lender, is under scrutiny following disclosures of financial irregularities at Espirito Santo International (ESI), which filed for creditor protection in Luxembourg on Friday. ESI indirectly owns 49 percent of the company that holds the Espirito Santos' stake in BES.

The troubles have shaken financial markets outside Portugal, although government bonds, which initially took fright, have since steadied.

BES was controlled and managed by the Espirito Santo family until just a few weeks ago, but they have since reduced their stakeholding and left top jobs at the bank. Respected economist Vitor Bento is the new chief executive after Ricardo Espirito Santo Salgado, the family patriarch, resigned from the position.

Bento told clients in a message on Monday that he was "working hard to regain the confidence of markets, to generate sustainable benefits and to open a new chapter for the bank".

The bank also said on Monday it was finalizing the appointment of a special advisor that would help it to better structure its capital base.

Portugal's central bank has said BES has enough capital to cope with any losses resulting from the fallout of the financial troubles of the family, whose companies owe the bank 1.2 billion euros, and that it could tap private investors if there is a further need.

BES raised 1.045 billion euros in a capital increase in June but subsequent details about its lending to Espirito Santo family companies and its troubled operations in Angola raised fresh questions about whether it needs more.

BES shares have lost about 60 percent in a month and on Monday closed down 3.1 percent at 0.4070 euros, while the Lisbon PSI20 stock index was flat.

(Reporting By Axel Bugge; Editing by Sophie Walker and Will Waterman)

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