Espirito Santo family woes mount as Rioforte seeks creditor protection

LISBON Wed Jul 23, 2014 4:12am EDT

A boy stands in front of the logo of Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo (BES), which is partially controlled by the Espirito Santo family, at the bank's headquarters in Lisbon July 16, 2014.  REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

A boy stands in front of the logo of Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo (BES), which is partially controlled by the Espirito Santo family, at the bank's headquarters in Lisbon July 16, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Rafael Marchante

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LISBON (Reuters) - The woes of Portugal's only banking dynasty, the Espirito Santo family, mounted on Tuesday as another of their holding companies asked a court for protection from creditors.

The announcement from Rioforte came less than an hour after Banco Espirito Santo, which the family founded, said that two heavyweight U.S. investors had taken a combined stake of almost 5 percent in BES.

Rioforte employs about 10,000 people and owns the family's non-financial assets, which include the largest piece of private property in Portugal, interests in tourism, energy, healthcare and farming from Brazil to Mozambique. It also has a 49.3 percent share in Espirito Santo Financial Group (ESFG), which owns 20 percent of BES.

Rioforte said in a statement it had asked for protection from its creditors because it was not able to pay some debts that had fallen due from July 9.

The company failed to pay 897 million euros ($1.2 billion) due to Portugal Telecom (PT) last week, triggering the re-negotiation of PT's planned merger with Brazil's Oi.

"Rioforte believes that a transparent and orderly restructuring of the company in the context of a controlled management procedure will allow the long-term financial sustainability of the company," the statement said, adding that asset sales might be pursued.

Rioforte's own parent company, Espirito Santo International, said on Tuesday that it had been successful in an application for creditor protection, which was made in Luxembourg on July 18.

Rioforte owed BES 220 million euros on June 30, the bank said previously. Those debts, plus another 925 million euros of borrowing from ESFG, had spooked some investors in the bank.

The troubles at the Espirito Santo holding companies have also worried investors in BES, and its shares are down 60 percent in the last month. Some saw light at the end of the tunnel on Tuesday evening, with the announcement that U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs acquired a 2.27 percent interest in BES, while U.S. hedge fund D.E. Shaw has taken a 2.7 percent interest.

"It’s positive that other institutional investors are showing confidence in the BES franchise and appearing on the share register," said Ciaran Callaghan, a senior analyst at Dublin-based Merrion Capital.

"This may encourage others to come on board and support a recapitalization of the bank, though it still remains to be seen if these new investors will be committed to the BES organization and take long-term stakes in the institution."

BES said Goldman had acquired its interest in the bank on July 15. It added that U.S. hedge fund D.E. Shaw had taken a 2.7 percent interest in the bank on July 14.

ESFG sold 4.99 percent of the bank on July 14 in order to repay loans.

BES could not immediately be reached to comment on whether Goldman Sachs and D.E. Shaw bought their interests from the family. Representatives from Goldman Sachs and D.E. Shaw in New York were not immediately able to comment.

On Tuesday, BES also announced that it had appointed Deutsche Bank to advise on ways to improve its balance sheet structure and said that it was postponing its half-year results to July 30. They were originally expected on July 25.

ESFG said on Tuesday it had sold part of Banque Privee Espirito Santo, its operation in Switzerland, to CBH Compagnie Bancaire Helvetique. It provided no details on the size of the stake or the value of the transaction.

Banking authorities in Panama said last week they have taken over ESFG's banking unit there "to protect and defend the interests of depositors and creditors of the institution, given the lack of liquidity and potential insolvency."

(This story corrects date of DE Shaw stake acquisition in 13th par to July 14 from June 14)

(Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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